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New Orleans Pelicans want to mimic 2016-17 Washington Wizards — last team to make playoffs after starting season slowly

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Odds aren’t good for 2-8 teams of making the postseason, but this Pelicans squad doesn’t feel they belong in that tier.

Houston Rockets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans first ten games of the season are in the books and it’s difficult to imagine a shakier start...unless of course you’re a longtime fan.

The Pelicans 2-8 record to kick off the Zion Williamson era is a major disappointment to all despite the fact that the ultra hyped rookie is yet to lodge a single minute. The team sits just a half game out of the cellar in the Western Conference as injuries and poor results have dominated the headlines. However, the Crescent City has unfortunately witnessed this scene before as the New Orleans franchise got off to even more dismal 1-9 starts in both 2015-16 and 2016-17. And if you may recall, that didn’t bode for the rest of those seasons.

Those two versions of the Pelicans finished 30-52 and 34-48, respectively, and poor W/L records have proven to be the status quo across the league for teams limping out of the gates. Among the 19 teams that began a campaign with two wins or less in their first 10 games over the last five seasons, only two went on to enjoy any kind of success.

Record after first 10 games Season record
2018-19 Cavaliers 1-9 19-63
2018-19 Suns 2-8 19-63
2018-19 Wizards 2-8 32-50
2017-18 Mavericks 1-9 24-58
2017-18 Bulls 2-8 27-55
2017-18 Hawks 2-8 24-58
2017-18 Kings 2-8 27-55
2016-17 Pelicans 1-9 34-48
2016-17 76ers 1-9 28-54
2016-17 Heat 2-8 41-41
2016-17 Mavericks 2-8 33-49
2016-17 Wizards 2-8 49-33
2015-16 Pelicans 1-9 30-52
2015-16 Nets 1-9 21-61
2015-16 76ers 0-10 10-72
2015-16 Lakers 2-8 17-65
2014-15 Knicks 2-8 17-65
2014-15 Lakers 1-9 21-61
2014-15 76ers 0-10 18-64

As you can plainly see, the vast majority failed to right the ship after really slow starts. In fact, 17 of 19 teams failed to finish with a record better than 14 games under .500. Only the 2016-17 Miami Heat and the 2016-17 Washington Wizards served as anomalies.

The Wizards turnaround was truly incredible when digging deeper. They finished 16 games over .500 and made the postseason, bowing out in the Eastern Conference semis. Before them, 12 teams had made the playoffs after starting 2-8 or worse going back to the 1983-84 season. Among those in that group were the 2010-11 Philadelphia 76ers — and a young Jrue Holiday who had just completed his second campaign in the league.

Despite the less than stellar start, this Pelicans team still feels quite upbeat about the rest of this season, and it’s not hard to fathom as to why. They’ve been involved in a lot of close losses, and the team has suffered a horrible rash of injury luck which has postponed Zion Williamson’s debut and has knocked Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Derrick Favors and Holiday out of action at times. Plus, the team possesses a nice mix of veteran voices that could assist a possible bounce back.

“My first year in Philly I was a rookie so everything was my first experience,” said Jahlil Okafor earlier this week after practice. “We also didn’t go 2-8. We went 0-17, so that’s a big difference. With this team, we have a lot of veteran guys. We didn’t have no Jrue Holidays, no Derrick Favors, no JJ Redicks. We have a lot of really good guys on this team. A lot of good players. A lot of veteran guys who lead us in the right direction.”

Alvin Gentry echoed Jah’s sentiment by stating that the losses have not fractured the locker room and he feels the team can turn things around.

“I think to me the most important thing is that you stay together,” said the head coach after yesterday’s practice. “It’s easy to fragment I think when you’re 2-8. It’s somebody’s fault other than yours. It’s the coach’s fault or...I don’t see that with this team at all. I feel like they have the confidence to know at some stage this will get turned around. I think they have the confidence to understand that we probably had opportunities to win a few games that we let slip away.”

Okafor, who has regrettably experienced losing like few others in this league, doesn’t seem to view this Pelicans team as a bad squad, just one that needs to clean up a lot of mistakes.

“Yeah, yeah, for sure. We’re still optimistic. Like I said, for all the games, for the most part, we’ve been in and we just can’t finish the games out so we have a lot of things we’re able to fix.”

At some point you’ve got to think that things click for Holiday, Zion returns and provides a boost witnessed in preseason, and that a lot of issues surrounding the team’s defense and performances witnessed in clutch minutes iron themselves out to some degree.

A bad record after 10 games has proven to not be a death sentence, but then again, history doesn’t favor the odds of a team climbing out of a deep hole created early and then finding relevancy.