A fluffy schedule in January was supposed to be the time these New Orleans Pelicans made a push up the standings. Rest advantage in eight of 15 games (dated back to New Year's Eve), just two back-to-backs themselves, and a massive homestand should be the ticket to an outstanding month for a good NBA team. Instead the Pelicans were merely decent in the last month.
8-7 is not an awful record, but if the Pelicans were actually a good team it should be better. New Orleans was 10-21 New Year's Eve morning and four games back of the Utah Jazz for eighth in the Western Conference. They have trimmed one game off that deficit to Utah but the Portland Trail Blazers now sit in eighth with a 3.5 game lead over New Orleans.
Over the last month the Pelicans have made progress on both sides of the ball. They rank 13th in ORtg (105.8), 11th in DRtg (102.8), and 9th in Net Rating (+3.0) since New Year's Eve. Notice, however, that the Jazz have been much better over the same time period (+4.9 Net Rating) without the benefit of a home-heavy schedule (Utah had six home games, Pelicans ten) like New Orleans. While this team is improving the team they are most likely to need to catch is improving more and has a three game head start.
The next two weeks before the All-Star Break (and the trade deadline) provide a necessary litmus test. Six games including trips to San Antonio (this Wednesday), Cleveland (Saturday), and Oklahoma City (next Thursday on TNT) will stress this team's ability to create wins that matter. Those Utah Jazz will also visit on Ash Wednesday (February 10th), the second night of a back-to-back for Utah after playing the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas. Just two "easy" wins appear in the next 11 days; the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday (and we've seen how "easy" wins against bad teams turn into losses) and the Minnesota Timberwolves next Monday.
Monday night against the Memphis Grizzlies proved there is still a long, long way to go for this team. Thankfully the power rankings came out before tip-off.
Last Week: 21 - This Week: 19
Jrue Holiday hit a crazy game-winner against the Nets on Saturday and is 17-for-32 on clutch shots (while no other Pelican has taken more than 10) since Dec. 31. The Pelicans have scored a ridiculous 133 points per 100 possessions with Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis on the floor over Davis' last eight games, but that trio's minutes have been limited (12.5 per game), because neither Holiday nor Anderson start.
Last Week: 21 - This Week: 19
From the depths of 11-26, New Orleans awoke Monday just two games back in the loss column behind No. 8 Portland, fueled not only by Anthony Davis and man-in-demand Ryan Anderson, but also the surging Jrue Holiday. Why is Anderson such a trade commodity? He's one of only five players in the league (and the only big man) averaging 17-plus PPG while shooting 40-plus percent from deep.
Last Week: 23 - This Week: 20
Stretchy four man Ryan Anderson keeps popping up as a trade target and has done plenty to boost his value, averaging 21 points and shooting 52% from deep during an impressive nine-game Pelicans run that’s turned out seven wins. They’re playing their best ball of the season at an awkward time, with the deadline nearing and still within reach of the eight seed despite all the disappointment.
Last Week: 20 - This Week: 19
The Pelicans are going to show up in the playoffs like that friend from high school that you assumed had winded up in jail in a third-world country for something really stupid. "Oh, hey, you're here! And alive!"