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Where the Pelicans sit today may very well not be where they finish tomorrow

Getting a W against the Mavericks tonight could be the first sign of better things to come

NBA: Sacramento Kings at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

A three-game losing streak to kick off the 2021-22 campaign was followed by a six-game slide, with a lone victory sandwiched in between. That, in a nutshell, details the New Orleans Pelicans disappointing 1-9 start.

There’s been no Zion Williamson throughout, Brandon Ingram’s been sidelined for the last four games and the Dallas Mavericks are the opponent this Monday evening — the Pels have beaten the Mavs just once in seven tries over the previous two seasons.

Instead of reminding readers how great it would be for Herbert Jones or Ingram to return tonight from injury, noting the need to slow the great one-man attack of Luka Doncic (24.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.9 assists), or run this Mavericks team off the 3-point line (their 40.2 3PA rank fifth in the league), let’s try and send out some much-needed positive vibe into the Pelicans universe.

As David Fisher outlines in the above thread, there remains plenty to watch and be hopeful about despite the negatives. A lot of this team’s young guns have taken their lumps early, but growth isn’t linear, especially when asked to carry a far bigger load than expected. Jonas Valanciunas has been a breath of fresh air at the center position. Devonte’ Graham is a legitimate 3-point threat who will shine once the Pelicans are at full strength, which should — knock on wood — eventually happen.

Speaking of what is to come, here’s a fun thought exercise: New Orleans has not yet been eliminated from the next postseason.

Yes, it’s near laughable to ponder a single game beyond the regular season at this point. But for argument’s sake, what if BI and Herb return this week, the Pelicans actually stabilize in the interim by winning a few games and Zion is back in action sometime towards the end of this month?

Massive turnarounds do happen in the NBA on occasion, and in the Pelicans’ case, the impetus would be there. Inserting over 50 points per game and having two All-Stars soak up the attention of opposing defenses for 4+ months could completely reverse the teams’s fortunes.

Since the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams in 1983-84, 14 teams have gone on to make the postseason after starting 2-8 or worse.

Team Record thru 10 games Overall record
1984-85 Cleveland Cavaliers 1-9 36-46
1987-88 New York Knicks 2-8 38-44
1987-88 Washington Bullets 2-8 38-44
1991-92 New Jersey Nets 2-8 40-42
1992-93 Boston Celtics 2-8 48-34
1995-96 Cleveland Cavaliers 2-8 47-35
1996-97 Phoenix Suns 0-10 40-42
2003-04 Miami Heat 2-8 42-40
2004-05 Chicago Bulls 1-9 47-35
2004-05 New Jersey Nets 2-8 42-40
2006-07 Toronto Raptors 2-8 47-35
2010-11 Philadelphia 76ers 2-8 41-41
2016-17 Washington Wizards 2-8 49-33
2020-21 Washington Wizards 2-8 34-38

There’s also quite a few other teams that have experienced greater success later on in a campaign that failed to include trips to the postseason, but with the present Play-In Tournament format, those outcomes might have been different.

The 2016-17 Miami Heat should spring immediately to mind. They began that season with a 2-8 record. After 41 games, they sat 11-30. But that squad went on a 30-11 tear to finish with a 41-41 record overall. That would have been good enough for the ninth seed in the East, and with how they were trending, would have likely been favored to advance beyond the play-in games.

Following yesterday’s practice, Willie Green had a simple but smart message. “Let’s start hitting some singles. Let’s start making some waves.”

The first ten games went about as poorly as they could have in the results department; however, there’s important work being done behind the scenes that could soon lead to greater prosperity.

“We have to acknowledge the frustration,” Green said. “We have to acknowledge where we are as far as record, reality, defensive efficiency, offensive efficiency, but it doesn’t feel that way. And I think the guys understand that every day we come in, our gym is popping. They bring great energy. They work their tails off. They compete. Our entire staff does that. And explaining to them that that is how you build a program. It’s not necessarily just the wins and losses, even though that’s where we are. Let’s start to move the needle in the next 10 games. So we’re just trying to break up the season. Our first 10, it is what it is. Let’s see if we can get better in our next 10.”

There’s no guarantee these Pelicans become habitual winners. At the same time though, it’s hard to believe that if Ingram and Zion appear in the vast majority of the remainder of the schedule and the players continue to buy into Green and his staff, a notable turnaround doesn’t occur at some point.

Notching a W against the Mavericks tonight could get that ball rolling.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (1-9) at Dallas Mavericks (6-3)

When: November 8, 2021, 7:30 pm

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.