The date was January 20th. New Orleans had returned home from a disasterous east coach road trip with a 2-3 record. Jrue Holiday did not return in the second half against the Boston Celtics, the first loss. Anthony Davis injured his toe against the Detroit Pistons. Horrific losses to the floundering Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks followed with the two best Pelcans on the bench. Monty Williams was on the hottest of seats. I even wrote a guide on firing your coach.
The Pelicans at that moment were 20-21, exactly halfway through the season. They were in 10th in the Western Conference, four full games behind the 25-18 Phoenix Suns for the 8th and final playoff spot. Local sports personalities were already (gleefully) writing the obituary of the team. Despite losing their second best player a funny thing happened. This team started winning.
|First 41 Games||0.488||16th||105.5||9th||106.2||25th|
|Last 32 Games||0.594||9th||104.9||9th||102.4||18th|
The offense actually slacked off a little bit, although remaining 9th in the league since January 21st. The defense has really clamped down despite Anthony Davis missing eight games to injury and leaving two more early with shoulder injuries. Omer Asik's increase in minutes, the absence of Ryan Anderson, the addition of Norris Cole, the schedule, and any number of other factors (continuity anyone) could explain it. Whatever story you want to tell, there is an opportunity to make hay.
What happened? The Pelicans started executing in the clutch. In the first half of the season the team was 22nd in Net Rating in clutch situation, posting a horrendous -12.4 mark. In the last 32 games the Pelicans are +9.7 in clutch situations; turning potential losses into victories far more often.
During the first 41 games the Pelicans found themselves in clutch situations 20 times. They went 8-12 in such games. In the last 32 the team has already been in 19 such games, going 12-7.
Once four full games back of the eighth seed the Pelicans find themselves 2.5 behind the Thunder with nine games to play. The Phoenix Suns, darlings of team building, have fallen by the wayside and may have quit on the season last night.
The Suns players know it's over. They showed that by going through the motions against a motivated Portland team playing to their home crowd as they clinched their second consecutive playoff spot with a 48-25 record and seven games to go before the "real" season starts.
The Pelicans are not yet in the mood to quit. Their much maligned coach doesn't have a history of allowing his team to quit. Even in the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, one the then-Hornets were supposed to lose games, the team went 6-3 to end the season. This year 6-3 might not be good enough over the last nine to make the playoffs. Rest assured this team won't go through the motions while Monty Williams is in charge.