New Orleans currently sits within striking distance of the fifth-seed Thunder in the playoff standings, but as the Trail Blazers, Nuggets and Clippers hold uncomfortably close, how do the Pelicans stack up without DeMarcus Cousins?
One noticeable positive: New Orleans holds the third-best road record in the Western Conference. The team has a chance over the next stretch of games to gain ground in the standings by using previous road successes to its advantage. New Orleans’ next two road matchups come against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Minnesota Timberwolves, who sit in fifth and fourth respectively.
The margin between sixth and fourth in the West is just 3.5 games, so those matchups could prove vital down the stretch. The Pelicans also see favorable matchups against the Kings, Jazz, Nets, Pistons and Lakers all prior to All-Star Weekend. Outside of that, they’ll welcome the Pacers at home and travel to Philly to face the 76ers.
Cousins brought a playmaking dynamic that few can replace, but his injury does not mean the ship is sinking. The loss to the Clippers was disappointing, but there was a glass half full: the Pelicans looked really solid in the first half. Moreover, if you look at the multitude of the Pelicans’ lineups used this season, you will see that all but two of the 10 most-used lineups that exclude Cousins yield a positive net rating. That is of course in small sample sizes but does indicate all is not lost.
The Spurs, Nuggets, Thunder, Clippers and Trailblazers all have strength of schedules for the remaining games that rate tougher than the Pelicans. The only teams in the playoff hunt whose remaining schedule is ranked lower are the Warriors, Rockets and Timberwolves.
In the presence of such devastation, there is still light at the end of the tunnel for New Orleans. With a favorable schedule heading into the break, and the report that the Pelicans plan to pursue talent before the Feb. 8 deadline, New Orleans can put a plan in place to fight the adversity at hand.
Make a move: Games proceeding the deadline, but prior to the NBA All-Star break, are against the 76ers, Nets, Pistons and Lakers. This presents a chance to not only continue winning and acclimate a new player acquired against easier competition, but to also head into the break with confidence and a chance to breathe. Formulate the plan, the ideal scenario you see for success, and then make it happen.