The road ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans to climb into the playoff picture was already arduous out of the All-Star Break. Both the Denver Nuggets (2.5 games ahead at the time) and Portland Trail Blazers (0.5 games ahead) faced easier schedules down the stretch run. Now, a 2-6 start out of the gates has nearly eliminated the Pelicans from legitimate playoff contention. They now trail the Minnesota Timberwolves by 2.5 games... for 11th in the Western Conference. Meanwhile the Blazers are on a four game winning streak and have the easiest schedule remaining. Oh, and they already hold the tie breaker over the Nuggets.
All three projections I look at expect both the Blazers and Nuggets to win between 37 and 38 games. In order to reach that win total New Orleans would have to finish the season 13-4. Now, the Pelicans schedule becomes much easier in the coming weeks and they play the Nuggets three times to gain some ground. In their final 17 games they face just five opponents over .500. Winning 13 games would require a couple upsets and absolutely dominating teams under .500. Not terribly likely considering their performance to date.
There are other factors for the remainder of the season. First and foremost the front office probably wants to see how Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins work together and to try to target players who can fill the gaps around their twin towers. Second, hopefully the ownership is in the process of evaluating the job both Dell Demps and Alvin Gentry are doing. Do I expect a change? Not right now but if the team continues to pile up losses there is an outside shot (very small at that) change could come.
Third is the Pelicans first round pick which Demps got top three protection on. That the pick is protected is completely and utterly insane. Kudos to Demps on that part but it isn’t hard to say that Vlade Divac failed completely here. Right now the projections expect New Orleans to win about 31 games. The Sacramento Kings are also projected around the same win total with the Orlando Magic near 30 and the Philadelphia 76ers at 29 wins.
With a little effort the Pelicans could conceivably finish with the 4th worst record in the NBA and a 37.8% chance at keeping their pick. Or they could pick up an additional handful of wins, finish with the 8th worst record (passing the New York Knicks in the process), and have just a 9.9% chance of landing in the top three. Yes, a couple wins “for the culture” could reduce their chances of retaining the pick nearly fourfold.
Is it too soon to talk about Lonzo Ball or Josh Jackson in a Pelicans uniform?