For a brief moment, there was hope. A remarkable upset victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder just one week ago raised the possibility that the New Orleans Pelicans would insert themselves into the playoff race. That opportunity was given away in the most painful way possible in the last three games.
On Saturday, the Pelicans held a 90% win probability over the Minnesota Timberwolves with 6:22 remaining in the fourth quarter. They lost. On Wednesday, their win probability peaked at 92.4% with 2:31 remaining against the Houston Rockets. They lost. Last night, a Dante Cunningham 3-pointer pushed the Pelicans win probability to 84.3% with 4:29 left on the clock. The San Antonio Spurs then ground the Pels into dust.
It is one thing for a team to lose a game. This happens in every single NBA contest. It is quite another to play well for 42 minutes or more just to give away a potential victory with poor execution, poor lineups, and poor strategy. A sprinkling of each has contributed to the Pelicans recent losses. Turnovers? Check. Playing Kendrick Perkins crunch time minutes? Check. Going away from the pick-and-roll at the highest leverage points in the game? Check.
No single element of the Pelicans operation should shoulder the entire blame for these late game collapses. It has been a team effort including the weaknesses of the roster (GM), strategic decisions (coaching staff), and on-court execution (players).
All those bad losses add up. The Pelicans playoff hopes, long on life support, are fading fast. Take us out Anna Kendrick, who is in no way related to Kendrick Perkins.
Pelican playoff odds this morning.— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) March 4, 2016
Basketball Reference: 0.4%
ESPN: 0.3% pic.twitter.com/qYRtu2enwR
There is a silver lining in these losses. The Pelicans have once again taken hold of the sixth spot on Tankathon with a half game lead on the Denver Nuggets. While catching the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have four fewer victories, is unlikely, it is going to take dedication to stay behind (or is it really ahead?) of the Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks, and New York Knicks. The Knicks constant losing is particularly troubling since they don't own their first round pick.
Tanking league-wide has yet to take hold outside of the Philadelphia 76ers or Phoenix Suns. Byron Scott and the Los Angeles Lakers continue to profess they are trying to win. The Brooklyn Nets do not have a reason to tank, since they do not own their own pick. Minnesota is working on development of young players, which naturally creates losses.
There is real value in finishing with the sixth worst record compared to seventh. Sixth provides 21.5% odds of jumping into the top three; those odds diminish rapidly in 7th (15.0%), 8th (9.9%), and 9th (6.1%). These losses are certainly painful to watch, but could deliver a significant reward come May.