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Pelicans eliminated from postseason contention with a heartbreaking 134-131 loss to Nuggets

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Bad defense, getting out-rebounded and untimely turnovers, proved to be the final nail in the Pelicans 2016-17 season.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The season is, for all intents and purposes, over for the New Orleans Pelicans.

With a 134-131 loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Pelicans are officially eliminated from postseason contention. New Orleans is once again lottery bound for the fourth time in Anthony Davis’ five seasons with the franchise.

We all knew the Pelicans’ playoff chances were virtually nonexistent. Trailing Portland by five games with five games left to play New Orleans would need to win out and get all kinds of help from both the Trail Blazers and the Nuggets in order to continue their season beyond April 12.

But the Pelicans took ending their season upon themselves and let the Nuggets come from behind in the fourth quarter, closing the Smoothie King Center for the 2016-17 season not with a bang, but with a whimper.

For a team that’s (now officially) not good enough to be in the postseason and not bad enough to have a realistic chance at having a high lottery pick, tonight’s loss was fairly apropos: a little bit of good, a little bit of bad and it makes a potentially tantalizing future seem so close but so far away.

Anthony Davis continued his season long dominance over the Nuggets with 41 points. In three games against Denver, Davis is averaging 41 points and 11 rebounds. Davis only managed to grab five rebounds tonight, however, and that lack of rebounding from all the players not named DeMarcus Cousins proved to be costly.

Speaking of Cousins, Boogie nearly posted a triple double with 30 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists. Cousins lobbed alley oop after alley oop to Anthony Davis throughout and then hit a three pointer to cut a seven-point deficit to four with 1:17 to play. Boogie then followed that up with another three-pointer to tie the game at 131 with 38 seconds to play.

Those three points would be the last the Pelicans would score for the night.

Sports are one of the few things in this world where so much can go wrong in such a short span of time and the last 38 seconds of this Pelican game was no exception. After Cousins made his game-tying triple, he fouled Wilson Chandler. Chandler missed the first free throw but made the second giving Denver a 132-131 lead with 18 seconds to play. New Orleans took their final timeout to advance the ball. Moments after the ball was inbounded, Jrue Holiday had an inexplicable turnover. He wasn’t being pressed, Denver didn’t set a trap he just... lost the ball off his right hand resulting in an over-and-back violation.

New Orleans smartly fouled Emmanuel Mudiay and he, like Chandler, split a pair from the line. Denver used their last foul to give and then again, Jrue Holiday made another unforced error. Holiday tried to pass the ball to Cousins on the perimeter, but in his haste, the ball hit one of Gary Harris’ arms — see how important it is to always play defense with hands up — and that turnover not only ended the game but the Pelicans’ season.

Far be it for me to say those two Holiday turnovers is the sole reason New Orleans lost this game. New Orleans allowed Denver to shoot 54 percent from the floor, 43 percent from three and was on the wrong side of a 50-35 rebounding disparity. Every single Denver player, with the exception of Kenneth Faried who left the game early due to back issues, scored at least 13 points. That being said, Jrue Holiday can’t turn the ball over like that late in the game and he certainly can’t do it twice on consecutive possessions.

Yet he did, and the remainder of the Pelicans’ season has now been reduced to irrelevancy. The Pelicans can go 4-0 to close the season out and it won’t matter. If anything, winning out may only hurt whatever small chance the team has at keeping their top-3 protected lottery pick. And after the strong month of March New Orleans just had, losing all four of their games won’t improve their lottery odds in a discernible way either.

New Orleans is in a tough spot with even tougher decisions regarding their future looming. Do they resign Jrue Holiday? Are Alvin Gentry and Dell Demps brought back for another season? The future presents its own set of problems, but in the here and now, Pelicans are facing a harsh reality:

Their 2016-17 season is officially over.