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New Orleans Pelicans face likely predicament: Rescheduling of Pacers game could force decision between playoff berth or player health

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With the makeup date against Indiana announced for March 21, New Orleans will be asked to play an unfathomable five times in six days.

NBA: Houston Rockets at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA has decided the New Orleans Pelicans will make up their postponed game from February 7 with the Indiana Pacers on March 21; however, that decision creates a rather obscene complication.

New Orleans schedule was already quite full around that time next month, but now the Pelicans will be asked to play five times in six days, six times in eight days and seven times in 10 days. Whichever way you slice it, it’s a brutal stretch for a team that is currently in the midst of an intense dogfight in the Western Conference. Seven squads are separated by a total of two games in the loss column and an eighth is charging up the standings on an 11-game winning streak.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The slightest miscalculation could ultimately have severe implications on the 2018 playoff picture. Honestly, it’s not inconceivable to imagine a scenario where a single decision by Head Coach Alvin Gentry has disastrous repercussions for the organization, either resting a core player or two leads directly to a deciding loss or pushing personnel into daily heavy minutes that results in lackluster effort, or worse, an injury which sparks the same unenviable conclusion — At the end of the day, Anthony Davis and downtrodden teammates are left watching the postseason from their living rooms. For a third consecutive year. And subsequently, important free agent decisions are made on the basis of New Orleans finish in the standings.

With league schedules ever so condensed, postponements can invariably lead to undesirable conflicts. Just last season wet floors overburdened two home teams.

  • After the Kings vs. 76ers was cancelled on November 30, 2016, Philadelphia was asked to make up the game on January 30, 2017, forcing them to play a total of seven times in ten days.
  • After the Trail Blazers vs. Timberwolves was cancelled on March 6, 2017, Minnesota needed to play on April 3, 2017, forcing them to finish their season playing seven times in ten days.

Minnesota and Philadelphia, however, did share a privilege that wasn’t granted to New Orleans yesterday. Neither was asked to acquiesce to three games in three nights. Back-to-back-to-back games were largely removed in the early 1980s but briefly re-appeared during the last lockout shortened season as the league tried to cram 66 games into a four-month period. Back in 2011-12, the New Orleans Hornets had one stretch involving three games in three nights (2/20/2012 - 2/22/2012).

The last time an NBA team played three games in three nights was the Washington Wizards during the 2015-16 season. They had to accommodate a postponement due to bad weather. However, they were fortunate to be coming right out of the All-Star break and then were able to enjoy two consecutive days off.

Which begs the question: Why wasn’t the Pacers-Pelicans contest rescheduled for Thursday, February 22 — the first day of play after this season’s All-Star break? There’s no event scheduled at the Smoothie King Center for that day, plus neither team played yesterday so both could have enjoyed that full week off. Moreover, Indiana plays on Feb. 23rd at home against the Hawks and then has successive days off.

Before the start of the season, the NBA proudly announced that not a single team would have to play four games in five days for the first time in its 72-year history. The reasoning was simple: no one was happy with watching a decreased product on the floor. Research has repeatedly proven that fatigue directly increases the odds for injury, and fans have complained of sitting through multiple DNP-rest designations by their favorite players.

Following yesterday’s controversial decision, the Pelicans will be playing five games in six days. Barring any new postponements, New Orleans will face the most grueling stretch of any team in the league this season and it appears it was solely at the behest of the NBA league office. From Article XX, Section 4 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement:

(b) ...Notwithstanding the foregoing, if any Regular Season or Playoff games are cancelled due to one or more events set forth in Article XXXIX, Section 5 (e.g., weather or natural disasters) or any other unexpected game cancellation (e.g., due to unexpected unavailability of a Team’s arena or transportation), the NBA may re-schedule any such cancelled game(s) in its discretion, after consulting with the Players Association.

When Adam Silver became the NBA commissioner, his number one priority was alleviating schedule concerns. “My goal is to eliminate the four out of five nights,” Silver said, “and dramatically reduce back-to-backs.”

The commissioner has done a magnificent job of accomplishing that task — which makes yesterday’s decision all the more bewildering. Now local fans have to hope and pray that the New Orleans Pelicans coaching staff pushes all of the right buttons. One small misstep could result in missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season and/or losing another player to a catastrophic injury.

Oh, boy.