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Pelicans host Kings while clinging to fading playoff hopes

It is now or never for the Pelicans.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

A four game losing streak, injuries to three critical players, free throw woes, and lackadaisical defensive rotations all struck at precisely the wrong time for the Pelicans. It is weird to remember that just eight days ago the New Orleans Pelicans were in the driver's seat for a playoff berth. The schedule was about to get tough (just as it got easy for the Thunder), but if the Pels could have just gone 2-2 over the last four games everything would be different now.

Instead, Anthony Davis rolls an ankle in a shoot around. Tyreke Evans and Omer Asik went down with various injuries in the game that night. An eight foot jumper rims out. A bogus offensive interference call against Davis provides a five point swing against the Clippers in the fourth quarter. The wheels come off at the foul line and on defense against the Rockets after a strong start. This might just be penance for that gifted win against Milwaukee when another defensive breakdown went unpunished.

Eleven games remain and the Pelicans are still 3.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Oklahoma City lost by 39 points to the San Antonio Spurs, but the Pellies failed to take advantage. Could the Thunder drop another couple games this week and give New Orleans a chance? Absolutely. Of their next six games only one is against a team under .500, and the Utah Jazz really don't count anymore considering their recent performance.

None of that matters unless the Pelicans can put together another win streak. Up next, the Sacramento Kings.

Keys to Victory

Stop Being Terrible on Defense: After years of running a very aggressive hedge-and-recover defense, Monty Williams has completely flipped the script going to a very conservative scheme. This has resulted in some areas of significant improvement (the Pelicans are 2nd in the NBA in three point percentage allowed after finishing 13th last season) as well as areas of damaging repercussions (last in shots allowed within three feet).

One area which caught my eye repeatedly last night was the weakside man not helping. This was often times Anthony Davis. For instance in this highlight dunk by James Harden, somehow Davis remained glued to the left block.

Watch AD's feet. From the time Harden initiates the pick and roll to the dunk Davis moves approximately six inches. Tyreke Evans (frequent ball watcher extrodinare) has actually sagged off to help on Josh Smith if there is a dump off. Asik is taking away the roll man (Donatas Motiejunas) who had a field day when Davis was in pick and roll coverage on this same play in the second quarter.

This is about trust. In the second quarter Davis did not trust the team to stop Harden's penetration, taking away that by overplaying and therefore opening up easy layups for Motiejunas where no help could come from. Here in the third, Davis does not trust (and to be honest, there isn't much reason to trust Evans off the ball) that "help the helper" is going to occur and he moves mere inches before providing a cursory challenge.

Make Open Shots: Eric Gordon went 0-4 on uncontested shots against Houston and 2-7 against Phoenix. Two games lost by a total of four points combined. Even more egregious, in these two games the Pelicans shot 25-42 at the foul line. 59.5%! This from a team shooting 76% from the line on the season. Anthony Davis was so disgusted with himself after the Houston game he stuck around, in uniform, until he made 100 free throws.

Get Stops: The Pelican offense ground to a halt because they stopped getting stops. A defense is much more likely to be set after makes than misses or turnovers and the opportunity to push the pace is decreased significantly. After a blazing start to the first quarter things ground to a halt in the second and third quarters, largely because the Rockets shot 61.5% and collected offensive rebounds on nearly half of their misses. Easy offense is difficult when you are always taking the ball out of your own basket.

What: Pelicans vs Kings

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: March 27th, 7:00 PM

How: Fox Sports New Orleans, NBA League Pass