Four straight losses heading into the final five games of the season is not ideal; however, the Pelicans remaining road is a more favorable stretch than most, with games coming up against the Grizzlies, Suns, Warriors, Clippers and Spurs. In contrast, the Denver Nuggets — New Orleans’ closest threat to the eighth and final spot in the playoffs — have each of their final five games against opponents battling for playoff position.
Even so, the Pelicans cannot afford to take much for granted. Over the last four games, it has become clear that the margin of error for this team is paper thin. Head Coach Alvin Gentry suggested yesterday that his team needs to loosen up, have fun and embrace the playoff race ahead.
“I think we’ve got to pay a little more loose,” said Gentry after the Pelicans latest loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. “I think we’re playing a little bit tight and I think that’s the reason we’ve turned it over a little bit. We’ve just got to get back to just enjoying the game and understanding that we’ve got to embrace this situation. We’ve got to embrace it and play the way we’re capable of playing. I think we’ve been good defensively...but offensively we’ve got to get our mojo back.”
It’s not time to panic, but a sense of urgency is more than necessary. New Orleans’ current four-game losing streak featured all quality opponents (Rockets, Trailblazers, Cavaliers and Thunder). No excuse there. Playoff teams find a way to win critical games. New Orleans had been quite consistent late in games, but this is a different stretch of basketball. Over this rough four-game span, the Pelicans’ field goal percentage, three-point attempts and three-point percentage have all fallen. Opponents are averaging 11.3 offensive rebounds per game during the stretch as well.
Steven Adams breaks down the Thunder’s success not switching at all when he was guarding old mate Anthony Davis pick-and-rolls: “Their guards are not trying to score like that, like crazy...They’re more probing, trying to see if they can drag you out to get lobs for old mate.” pic.twitter.com/IyIzXATSPW— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) April 2, 2018
Opposing teams know Anthony Davis is the anchor of this team and they won’t lose sight of him for anyone else on the roster. Davis was held to 16 points against Cleveland, dealing with a minor ankle injury, and struggled to find a rhythm in Sunday’s loss to the Thunder. It’s an understandable concept that Davis will be countered with multiple defenders, but when the Pelicans pair that with 21 turnovers and just six shots through three quarters from Jrue Holiday, you don’t find a recipe for success. Regardless, the Pelicans are aware of their place in the standings as it’s been this tight for a while.
“For the last two months, it’s been like this,” said Holiday after the team’s 109-104 loss to the Thunder. “It’s been close. Even from when Utah got their first 10 or 11-game win streak, and they started out terribly. I think we’ve got to get back in a groove, especially toward the beginning and end of games. We’ll figure it out.”
The Pelicans have beaten but three Western Conference opponents with a winning record since DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the season — while losing nine, and with games against the Warriors, Clippers and Spurs to wrap up the regular season schedule, something has to give. Handle the matchups against teams in the tank (Grizzlies and Suns) and live to fight another day. That should be the goal.
Can New Orleans embrace the moment and hang onto their first postseason bid in three years?
Well, it may come down to the final game of the season against San Antonio until we find out. Now, doesn’t that sound all too uncomfortably familiar?