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Pelicans just close enough to push for the playoffs, inching up in power rankings

Only problem is, that’s the path to mediocrity.

NBA: Miami Heat at New Orleans Pelicans Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans are on a roll, if you can call it that. They’re 5-5 in their last ten games and 3-1 in the last four. Dig any deeper than the record and numerous warts begin to show. Over the last ten games the Pelicans sport a -5.2 net rating, good for 25th in the league in that span. Those five wins? All against teams under .500 as of this morning. The Pelicans are 23rd in defensive rating (109.8) and 19th in offensive rating (104.6).

Thanks to some poor play in the bottom half of the Western Conference this franchise sits just three games behind the Sacramento Kings for the 8th and final spot in the playoff picture. 49 games is a long time for things to shake out and the Pelicans are certainly not eliminated from making a legitimate playoff run. The distance between them and the Utah Jazz in 7th (seven games back) makes it extremely unlikely New Orleans can climb above 8th.

However, I ask, what does that accomplish? Instead of selling at the trade deadline the Pelicans decide to buy. Instead of tanking for a great draft they push for the honor of a quick exit at the hands of the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs, a worse draft pick, and likely a retention of a thoroughly mediocre roster. Most importantly, such marginal success would likely result in fewer of the obviously necessary changes this franchise needs and the fan base craves.

It’s hard to flip that switch, even for me an advocate for tanking at this point. When Buddy Hield comes around an Anthony Davis screen and buries an off-the-dribble three (as he did last night) I cannot help but be really excited.

That’s really impressive and looks like Hield when he was at Oklahoma. Buddy this month has been on fire, shooting 47.5% behind the arc in December. Cheick Diallo has been great in the few spot minutes he’s received (more please) and has an impressive 23.3 PER in December to show for his efforts. But this team, as a whole, is bad. Not historically bad. Not worst in franchise history bad. Just normal, run of the mill bad.

This Pelicans team improving over the next month and a half to mediocre is not a good thing. And it is reasonable to predict they could go .500 or maybe even a little better between now and the All-Star Break. For the long term health of this team that’s a death sentence to the treadmill of mediocrity.

I am gonna have to pass on that.

Last Week: 25 - This Week: 22

The Pelicans continue to start Anthony Davis at power forward, but have been much better with Davis and center and Terrence Jones at power forward (plus-4.1 points per 100 possessions) than with Davis on the floor with Alexis Ajinca (minus-11.0) or Omer Asik (minus-2.0). Jones has averaged 15.8 points on 50 percent shooting over his last four games, and when he missed Friday's game against Miami, the Pels went to a micro-bench that gave them a big lift. Langston Galloway had been pushed out of the rotation with the return of Tyreke Evans, but played 29 minutes and hit three big fourth-quarter jumpers (part of a 19-6 run) in the win over the Heat.


Last Week: 27 - This Week: 26

Anthony Davis leads the league with nine 30-point, 15-rebound games already this season. The rest of the league has combined for just 10, and no other player has more than DeMarcus Cousins' three. Now for the rough stuff: Two games into what Pels coach Alvin Gentry dubbed a season-defining homestand, New Orleans is 1-1 with home dates remaining against the Mavericks, Clippers and Knicks. All three would appear to be classified as winnable, given the Clips' health issues; but the Mavericks, by contrast, are as healthy as they've been all season. And the aforementioned Brow, rather ominously, said before the homestand even started that "everybody in here knows we need to win all five games."

Sports Illustrated

Last Week: 24 - This Week: 23

The Pelicans are just one game out of last place in the conference, but somehow only three away from a playoff spot. Nobody’s going to bet on them to do it, but if it happens, where would Anthony Davis’s MVP campaign stand?

CBS Sports

Last Week: 26 - This Week: 22

The Pels have won two of three, but don't get excited. They were vs. the Heat and Sixers. They also have poor shooters and bad rebounding. Not a great combo.