Through nearly the first half of the 2016 season, the New Orleans Pelicans have done a masterful job of staying on both sides of the equation in two relevant races. On the one hand, they have theoretically always remained within striking distance of a 2016 playoff berth. On the other, their record has normally been on pace of fetching a top-5 pick in the upcoming 2016 NBA Draft.
Before any games tipped Sunday, the Pelicans find themselves a mere 4.5 games behind the Utah Jazz for the 8th seed in the Western Conference. Despite a 13-26 W/L record, they are in an identical position in the standings as they were one year ago. On January 17th, 2015, the 19-20 Pelicans were 3.5 games behind the 24-18 Phoenix Suns for the 8th spot.
We all know how the rest of the games played out. New Orleans needed to win games down the stretch, and they did just that, edging out the Oklahoma City Thunder on the last day of the season with a win over the San Antonio Spurs. Yet, sites like NumberFire, Basketball Reference and PlayoffStatus.com are all giving the 2016 Pelicans less than a 10% of making the postseason.
Quincy Pondexter may be out for the rest of the season, having never taken flight, but the rest of the roster is as available as they've been all season. The trio of Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday ranks as one of the most dominant 3-man lineups in the NBA. A number of teams above New Orleans in the standings are not on strong footing; the remaining Pelicans schedule is one of the easiest in the league.
And just perhaps, the personnel better acclimate to Alvin Gentry's system, while the coaching staff gains a better understanding of lineups and combinations. Despite the obvious holes in the roster, I've never been able to accept the fact that the existing talent, if healthy, have a great chance of finishing the regular season with one of the worst team records.
Following tomorrow's contest in Memphis, the Pelicans will play seven straight home games against a sub-par group that collectively possess a 124-162 record (a 43.4% winning percentage). Despite some bad losses of late (DAL, LAL), it's not out of the realm of possibility New Orleans could finish the upcoming home stand on a winning note, maybe even an exclamation point. For those wishing to view the tank roll through the central business district, don't get your hopes up too high, not until after Mardi Gras anyway.