The New Orleans Pelicans final twelve games of the 2016 season will be without much fanfare for hometown fans. Playoff aspirations are dead in the water and most of the team's key contributors will not dribble a basketball again during these remaining forsaken regulation minutes. Yep, tank pictures are most definitely en vogue.
On the flip side, Thursday's opponent will treat the rest of the schedule as preciously as the Pelicans did one year ago. The Indiana Pacers sit just one game inside the Eastern Conference playoff race, currently fighting tooth and nail with the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons for the last two playoff seeds.
Fortunately for Indy, nine of their final twelve contests will come against teams with losing records. In addition, they've got one of the best players in the game: Paul George. After suffering a potentially career-altering injury, George has rebounded better than most ever imagined from his broken leg during Team USA competition. He is top-10 in the association in points, threes, steals and free throws, but more impressively, at least from my perspective, are his 2484 minutes played -- he is yet to miss a game this season!
Among the rest of the roster, Monta Ellis and George Hill have supplied the necessary stability in the backcourt while Ian Mahinmi, Jordan Hill and rookie Myles Turner have taken care of business down low. Outside of George, they're one of the least flashiest teams in the league and that includes squads sitting on the outside of the playoff picture. Yet, here they sit with a 37-33 record. How?
George Vogel and his staff are apparently very good with their teachings on that end of the floor. Many surmised that once David West and Roy Hibbert left town and Larry Bird declared the team would play smaller and faster, offense would take precedence. Nope, it hasn't worked out that way, but I don't think too many fans are complaining all that much about owning the third best defensive rating in the NBA.
Three Things to Watch
- Jrue Holiday. I'm fine with him working on his game and improving valuable leadership skills, but please, PLEASE, finish the season healthy.
- The 3-headed center rotation. The Pelicans are most likely not going to be able to move on from the entire trio of Omer Asik, Kendrick Perkins and Alexis Ajinca. It would be nice if one of them, well Asik or Ajinca specifically, emerges during these final few weeks and gives some hope before next year's training camp.
- Players fighting for 2017 roster spots. The contracts of Luke Babbitt and Toney Douglas are not guaranteed for next season so these final 12 games will serve as additional audition material. Nail them high notes, boys!