Just in time for a potential playoff push, the New Orleans Pelicans have a relatively easy schedule this coming month. Most importantly, they will not play a single back-to-back in January, as well as not face a significant rest disadvantage over the next 30 days. Of their 14 games this month, 12 are against Eastern Conference opponents. None are against the primary competition for the 8th seed in the West: the Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets, and Portland Trail Blazers.
This is both good and bad. Wins over the teams in the hunt for the 8th seed count double — a win for the Pelicans and a loss for their opponent. Even a great month does not mean New Orleans will find themselves in the driver’s seat for the eighth seed as the calendar flips to February. On the other hand, a bad month of January would not necessarily put the Pels out of contention if their Western Conference brethren also struggle.
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Another long east coast swing in the middle of the month could be a turning point for this team. However, remember too that in 2014-15 the Pelicans struggled on a similar road trip and still found themselves in the playoffs by April.
The schedule yo-yos back and forth between difficult and easy stretches. The first four games feature teams above .500 and currently in the East playoff race; the next five against fringe playoff teams below .500 and outside the playoff picture. Then the month finishes with five straight teams well above .500 including the Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, and Toronto Raptors. That’s a really nice home stand if you’re looking to purchase a small ticket package this month.
New Orleans has a chance here to build on a strong finish in December. Winning a couple games over good competition plus generating team chemistry (and more wins) during a long road trip could prove to be the tipping point when we look back on this season. Even more .500 ball could be sufficient to keep the Pelicans in the race for the 8th seed unless another team finally clicks. (Best bet, the Portland Trail Blazers since they have done this before.)
Anthony Davis and the Pelicans are just one game out of the 8th seed on January 1st. While they would tell you to a man being 14-21 is underachieving according to their internal goals, the larger season long goal of making the playoffs is still within reach.
January is not an impossible month. With consistent rest and a long road trip there’s potential. Now we wait and see if the Pelicans will seize the opportunity.