There’s a King of the Hill episode I’m particularly fond of.
Well, that’s a bit inaccurate: I’m particularly fond of every King of the Hill episode.
What I mean to say is there’s an episode I think applies to this current Pelican season. “Cheer Factor,” the 13th episode of season eight, centers around Peggy becoming Tom Landry Middle’s cheerleading coach because of her ability to come up with rally-inspiring cheers* like “Arlen! Arlen! Fight! Fight! Fight! Push that ball with all your might!”
*Note: the “cheers” mainly centered around the cheerleaders assaulting Bobby dressed as the other team’s mascot. Stabbing it was usually their go-to move which was fine until you went against a school like the Tornadoes then that became problematic because how do you stab a tornado? The show left that performance out of the episode which is a shame because I’m super intrigued to know how Peggy and the girls killed a dang tornado.
Wouldn’t you know, the Longhorns did indeed pushed that ball with all of their might and they came back and won the game. This guy yells to Hank “Hank, your wife reminded me why I like football so much: WINNING!”
I feel like this guy represents the Pelican fanbase currently. At 10-8 through their first 18 games of the schedule, the Pelicans are squarely in the Western Conference playoff picture. Even better than that, they’re just one game behind San Antonio for the three seed. Coming into the season, just making the postseason was the expectation and, nearly a quarter into the season, here is New Orleans competing for home court in the first round of the playoffs.
I have never been so excited, so optimistic and... so afraid for my basketball fandom.
New Orleans is a good sports town, but professional basketball has never given the city reason to really invest in the franchise. The Jazz only called New Orleans home for five years before moving to Salt Lake City. Twenty three years passed before the Hornets would make their way down south to New Orleans. The Hornets/Pelicans have six playoff appearances, one division title and one playoff series victory since 2002. To date, the Pelicans’ all-time record is 572-660. Again, it’s not that New Orleans fans don’t care about the franchise, it’s that the team’s barely given anyone reason to care about them.
Until now that is.
Sure, the Pelicans don’t make sense. They have guards that, bless their heart, try their best but can’t shoot. At least not as well as you’d expect your guards to shoot. They signed Jrue Holiday, an alleged point guard, to a $126 million deal and have him playing off the ball because it turns out he might not be best suited as a point guard. Their best three point shooter is Darius Miller, a guy the Pelicans drafted, assigned to the D-League, re-signed, waived, and eventually resigned again, but not before Miller spent the better part of the past two seasons kicking it in Germany with Brose Bamberg.
And don’t get me started on the defiant science experiment that is pairing Anthony Davis with DeMarcus Cousins. While the league gravitates toward space and pace with loads of shooting, New Orleans is zagging the opposite way and unleashing the two best big men on the rest of the association. Everyone else is trying to create a team full of Reggie Millers and Ray Allens. The Pelicans? They’re fine partnering Wilt Chamberlin with Bill Russell and are laughing in your face because they know you don’t have anything close to stopping what they have.
It doesn’t make sense that the three best ball handlers for New Orleans are a 6’11” power forward that grew eight inches in high school, a 6’11” center that can fly off the handle at any given moment, and a point guard that’s shoots 30 percent from three and 60 percent from the free throw line for his career.
I tweeted after the victory over the Spurs that New Orleans was only a game in back of San Antonio for the three seed, but “it won’t last.” And someone replied to me “why can’t it last?” You know what? I feel like that guy’s right.
No, the Pelicans probably won’t finish with the third best record in the Western Conference. The roster is too mismatched: there’s not enough shooting from three-point range and the defense is not as good as it needs to be. But the Pelicans have Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins and them merely existing gives New Orleans a chance to win every single game they play in. Am I being overly optimistic? Probably. It’s only been 18 games after all. But considering New Orleans was 6-12 last year and 4-14 the year before at this same point, you should hopefully understand where this optimism is coming from.
Folks, winning is fun. Winning breeds optimism. Look at the Saints: coming into the year the Saints had three consecutive 7-9 seasons. An 0-2 start almost ruined another season of professional football for me. Now, eight consecutive wins later, I’m thinking they can win the dang Super Bowl this year.
Why shouldn’t we enjoy the same type of reckless abandonment with the Pelicans?
Imagining who the Pelicans might host in round one is infinitely more fun to think about than wondering who New Orleans might pick (insert pick number here) in the lottery for the umpteenth time. It wasn’t that long ago when the Pelicans utilized a starting lineup consisting of Toney Douglas, Dante Cunningham, Alonzo Gee and Alexis Ajinca, or throwing out 40 different starting combinations over the course of one season. Trust me, this 10-8 start is so much more enjoyable than anything New Orleans has experienced since the playoff run in 2015.
The tone coming out of the locker room is the best I’ve heard it in the four years writing for the site. The players seem to be enjoy playing together and really think they can accomplish big things this season.
Take DeMarcus Cousins who said “I think we can be scary” after Wednesday night’s win over San Antonio. If the players are thinking it, why can’t we?
The Pelicans are 10-8, winners of seven of their last ten. They are currently the seventh seed in the West and merely one game out of third. They have two All-NBA big men that are either performing at expectations or blowing said expectations completely out the water. They have a supporting cast full of mismatched parts and otherwise complete oddities that inexplicably keeps winning basketball games.
I have absolutely no idea how the rest of this season will play out.
But dammit, this ride is shaping up to be a lot of fun.