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New Orleans Pelicans bucking conventional wisdom to stay afloat in Western Conference playoff race

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The home/road splits are highly unusual and they could be even more skewed if not for fourth quarter failures!

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Away from the friendly confines of the Smoothie King Center, the New Orleans Pelicans have been at their best.

Although a 10-9 mark does not look impressive on the surface, the Pelicans are just one of nine teams in the league to boast a winning record on the road. Furthermore, digging through NBA statistics reveals a New Orleans squad that resides inside the top 10 in most offensive and defensive categories!

Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating FG% 3PT% Opponent FG% Opponent 3PT%
Pelicans Home 110.1 (10th) 109.3 (30th) +0.8 (18th) 50.0% (2nd) 37.7% (9th) 47.8% (27th) 41.2% (30th)
Pelicans Away 107.2 (8th) 105.8 (11th) +1.4 (7th) 48.0% (4th) 38.8% (2nd) 45.3% (7th) 33.5% (4th)

While the Pelicans still give up a rather obscene amount of points (109.0) to opponents on the road, they’ve managed to win more than they lose. If one removes the 146-point embarrassment to the Denver Nuggets back in the middle of November, the opponent points per game average would be 106.9 points — good for 16th in the league.

Teams that show an ability to notch victories away from home have to be cohesive and tough, persevering in hostile environments when they have no one else to rely on but each other. This is a novel but very welcome concept for the New Orleans franchise.

Last season, the Pelicans won a total of 13 games on the road, and their 10th win didn’t occur until March 5, 2017. The season before, Alvin Gentry’s first year at the helm witnessed just nine total wins on the road. And the last time the Pelicans made the playoffs, the 2014-15 squad finished with a 17-24 away record, with the 10th victory coming on February 6, 2015.

New Orleans is well ahead of all those paces, and being greedy for a moment, things could be even brighter. In five of the nine losses on the road this season, the Pelicans were either tied or held a lead after three quarters of action. They were two points ahead of the Trail Blazers on 10/24, tied with the Raptors on 11/9, up on the Jazz by four points on 12/1, beating the Rockets by seven points on 12/11, and had a double-digit advantage of ten points against the Nuggets on 12/15.

As you may surmise, fourth quarter execution could have been better. A whole lot better.

Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating FG% 3PT%
Pelicans Away 1st Quarters 110.8 (6th) 108.1 (19th) +2.8 (11th) 50.7% (2nd) 44.7% (2nd)
Pelicans Away 2nd Quarters 113.1 (3rd) 103.3 (5th) +9.8 (2nd) 51.4% (2nd) 43.0% (2nd)
Pelicans Away 3rd Quarters 103.0 (16th) 99.5 (8th) +3.6 (10th) 46.3% (12th) 35.7% (20th)
Pelicans Away 4th Quarters 101.8 (24th) 112.9 (27th) -11.1 (29th) 43.4% (24th) 32.8% (20th)

New Orleans is a near world beater in first halves on the road, sandwiched between the Rockets and Raptors at the top of the leaderboard. The problem is the offense has a tendency of fading hard in the second half, and the defense joins the despair in fourth quarters.

Are core players like Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday simply too gassed once their minutes reach a certain threshold? Do opponents make necessary adjustments or are the Pelicans at fault for going away from what was successful? Or maybe the lights just get too bright? All, some, or none of the above?

I’m not sure, but this trend will be worth monitoring the rest of the season. For now, rejoice in the fact that the Pelicans are performing well overall on the road and away wins are leading the charge to the 2018 playoffs, but keep your fingers crossed they unlock a 4th quarter secret, or even better, start performing better at home in front of their fans!