The New Orleans Pelicans went 0-3 last week and yet wobbled very little in NBA power rankings. Three losses against superior competition should not be terribly surprising. As long as the Pels can continue to pile up wins against the dregs of the league and teams in varying levels of dysfunction (although the New York Knicks are trying to set a new land speed record in that regard) it appears they will continue to stay afloat in the race for the playoffs.
Since Jrue Holiday returned (November 18th) the Pelicans have been a perfectly average NBA team. They rank 22nd in offensive rating (103.2), 5th in defensive rating (103.6), and 15th in net rating (-0.4) in that span. Not exactly the high scoring outfit expected when combining the talents of Anthony Davis with the coaching of Alvin Gentry, but a roster built on defense-first players like Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore, and Dante Cunningham is proving there are different ways to skin a cat. Darren Erman, at the very least, is delivering upon even our high expectations. It’s a funhouse mirror version of the Monty Williams Pelicans of 2014-15 when healthy.
And boy, have these Pelicans been remarkably healthy over the last two months or so. Anthony Davis has missed just one game in that span (and just two all season). Buddy Hield is shooting for a perfect attendance award. Terrence Jones missed just one game with a stomach bug. Langston Galloway logged a DNP-CD in a blowout over the Philadelphia 76ers. Solomon Hill missed two games due to the birth of his first child. Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore each missed three games with minor toe injuries.
The only significant absences in these last 27 games (the Pelicans are 13-14 since Jrue Holiday returned) are Dante Cunningham (missed 12 games with a broken leg) and Tyreke Evans, who just got back into uniform on December 15th. This is arguably one of the healthiest stretches this franchise has seen since Anthony Davis arrived in 2012.
Of course, before we get too festive, Davis went tumbling into the stands last night and is now questionable with a hip pointer. A couple days off without any travel should help and hopefully the big man is able to go against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.
Are the Pelicans ripe for a run at the eighth playoff spot? It is imminently in reach (they trail the Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings by just one game) and New Orleans has been the eighth best team in the West (according to net rating and record) since starting the season 0-8. That a pretty massive 31 game (nearly 38% of an NBA season) sample to lean on. As long as health continues going .500, or even a little better, over the remaining 43 games, is reasonable. Finishing 22-21 would put the Pels at 37-45; barely cresting over the over/under this season and possibly enough to get a ticket into the playoffs.
Last Week: 19 - This Week: 20
Donatas Motiejunas had 11 points, five rebounds and four assists in his debut on Saturday, but the Pelicans allowed the Celtics to score 62 points in his 20 minutes on the floor. Offense was the issue in losses to the Cavs and Hawks last week, with Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, Solomon Hill, E'Twaun Moore and Jrue Holiday somehow combining to shoot 24-for-53 (45 percent) from 3-point range and 7-for-40 (18 percent) on 2-point shots. They've lost three straight and need to get some road wins if they're going to stay within shouting distance of eighth place in the West.
Last Week: 22 - This Week: 22
The Pelicans shouldn't let themselves get hugely discouraged by last week's results. It was an 0-3 week, true, but road losses to the Cavs and Celtics -- sandwiched around a home loss to the team (Atlanta) sporting the league's second-longest active win streak -- can be rationalized. The Pels, though, are going to have to start winning some road games if they hope to become the first team in the league since Chicago in 2004-05 to start a season 0-8 and still make the playoffs. New Orleans' total of four road wins to date is tied for the West's lowest current total, which injects some undeniable urgency into its first two games this week at New York and Brooklyn.
Last Week: 17 - This Week: 19
We last visited the Pelicans in Week 2, and things down in New Orleans are not quite as drastic as when the team was 0–8, even if the King Cake Baby is being dispatched to terrorize random civilians in their own homes. Buddy Hield won Rookie of the Month in December, Jrue Holiday’s been playing well, and the Pels are just outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency over their last 15 games (in which they are 7–8). In the West, that’s enough to keep them sniffing around the final playoff seed.
Last Week: 18 - This Week: 22
New Orleans lost three straight and are still 1.5 games back of the 8th seed. Lord, help us, the middle-to-bottom West is awful.