The New Orleans Pelicans are officially struggling — and it might soon cost them a spot in the playoffs.
The Pelicans started Easter Sunday needing a win desperately, but Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder extended the woes, handing New Orleans a 109-104 loss inside the Smoothie King Center. Even worse, all of the losses during the four-game losing streak have come to playoff teams. There’s no shame in losing to good quality opponents, but it’s not a good omen for New Orleans chances to advance in the postseason. In fact, just making the playoffs is far from a certainty at this point.
Currently, the Pelicans are sitting in the electric chair — also known as the 8th seed in the Western Conference. New Orleans is just a single game ahead of the Denver Nuggets, but the two teams might as well be tied in the W/L column since they own the precious tiebreaker. If the Pels hope to keep playing into the latter half of April, they’ll have to turn in much better performances than the one put forward Sunday night.
New Orleans Starts Strong Then Fades
The Pelicans jumped out to the early advantage, finishing the first quarter on a 19-5 run to lead the Thunder 28-20. Rajon Rondo, Ian Clark, Darius Miller, and E’Twaun Moore all hit three-pointers as the Pels knocked down five of their first 10 from deep. Rondo led the way overall with seven points and one assist.
Unfortunately, the first quarter was the highlight of the game for the Pelicans as New Orleans was outscored 89-76 the rest of the way. Russell Westbrook treated NOLA fans to one of his trademark triple-doubles, with 26 points, 13 assists, and 15 rebounds. I know a lot of people often poo-poo Westbrook’s stat stuffing lines, but the guy is simply amazing.
Despite registering 25 points and 11 rebounds, Anthony Davis had a relatively quite night. He scored 13 points in the second half, but seven of them came inside the final three minutes when New Orleans deficit had grown to nine points and the game felt like it was already out of reach.
Whether the twenty-five-year-old superstar was still feeling the effects of the ankle injury he suffered against Portland or is simply running out of steam to finish the regular season, the New Orleans Pelicans desperately need to see a few more appearances out of the All-Star Davis. He has been playing heavy minutes — he logged a team-high 40 minutes against the Thunder — and it would be great if New Orleans could shorten Davis’ minutes, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cars as he’s going to have to gut out the final five games on the schedule.
Yes, the Pelicans pulled within five points after a Miller three with just under two minutes left in the fourth quarter, but a Westbrook layup and a Paul George three-pointer iced the game, sending Davis and company to their fourth straight lost. The Pelicans now sit perilously on the edge of the Western Conference playoff picture and they have nobody to blame but themselves.
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers
This was one of the Pelicans sloppier games on the season. New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times within the first three quarters. The only saving grace was that the Thunder often gave the ball right back, committing 18 of their own giveaways. At times it felt like Rajon Rondo (6 turnovers) and Russell Westbrook (7 turnovers) were dueling to see who could make the worse pass. Despite what the numbers say, Rondo won because his team lost. The Pels at least were able to clean it up a bit in fourth quarter where they only gave the ball away once, but by then it was too late as Westbrook and Paul George (27 points, 8 rebounds) took the game over.
Struggling Role Players
Actually most of the supporting cast wasn’t terrible, but Nikola Mirotic and Solomon Hill really stunk up the place. Mirotic shot 0-5 from three point range (2-9 overall) and continues to struggle badly right now. You’ve got to wonder if it has become mental at this point for the usually more consistent shooter so don’t blame Head Coach Alvin Gentry for rightly looking for better options.
Hill joined Mirotic on the struggle bus as he shot 1-4, missing both of his three-point attempts. Solo also looked slow and a bit out of NBA shape. Really, this should’ve been expected as he works himself back into the Pelicans lineup, but also because Hill is already a somewhat limited player. Expecting him to provide any consistent help after missing 70 games was always overly optimistic.
Just when all seems lost, the schedule Gods have smiled upon the Pelicans. They’ll get a chance to snap their badly timed losing streak against the cellar-dwelling Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday and then the Phoenix Suns on Friday.
Please, geaux Pels!?