It was still good a little over a week ago ... except it actually wasn’t.
The Pelicans had won 3 of 4 games and the Spurs were sliding in the standings. Although Brandon Ingram had left the 108-103 win over the Warriors early after suffering a sprained ankle in the second quarter, there was optimism he would return before season’s end.
However, the hits wouldn’t stop.
The next day, Steven Adams was back on the injury report, listed as doubtful against the Sixers. But the seismic jolt was announced last Friday: Zion Williamson had sustained a fractured left ring finger. And earlier today, we learned Lonzo Ball would miss tonight’s matchup against the Mavericks with a right thumb sprain.
With four-fifths of the starting lineup unavailable, the entire team took their final bow in relevance to possible postseason play.
Final: Dallas 125, New Orleans 107— Christian Clark (@cclark3000) May 13, 2021
Pelicans are officially eliminated from postseason contention. Finishing 10th or better in the West wasn't that high of a bar to clear, but they couldn't do it.
The 125-107 loss to the Mavericks marked the third straight year that the Pelicans have missed the postseason, and it immediately offers interesting questions as they try to avoid a fourth.
What wasn’t a question entering Wednesday was the Mavericks once again having the Pelicans’ number and Luka Doncic more than likely having every game versus New Orleans circled on his calendar.
Probably goes without saying, but we've seen better halves. Pelicans trail the Mavericks 77-58 at halftime. Dallas got anything they wanted.— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) May 13, 2021
The most points New Orleans has allowed to an opponent this season is 143 -- to this Dallas squad (2/12/12).
Luka loves playing the Pels.— Christian Clark (@cclark3000) May 13, 2021
Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined for 60 points in Wednesday’s affair as the Pelicans saw no player finish with more than 15. Jaxson Hayes and Eric Bledsoe were the high men for New Orleans, but things went south quickly before the final tally.
A lopsided 45-28 second quarter foretold the ending, but not before Kristaps Porzingis’ return to action set the tone early against a thin Pelicans’ front court.
This is another one of those games where we're reminded why Kristaps Porzingis' nickname is the Unicorn. If he can just stay on the court....— Saad Yousuf (@SaadYousuf126) May 13, 2021
Let’s just jump to the best part of the night: Didi Louzada made his season debut and he left fans giddy.
Although he didn’t offer much from a scoring perspective (two points on 1-5 shooting), but just as he showed overseas and in summer league, Didi is a bolt of useful energy — especially on the defensive side of the basketball.
Louzada more than held his own against one of the best players in the game today in Luka Doncic.
Stan Van Gundy on Didi Louzada's debut tonight: "I thought it was a real positive first NBA game. ... You've practiced one time and you've gone through some walkthroughs in a hotel and then we send you out there and say 'guard Luka Doncic.' He did a really good job."— Eliot Clough (@EliotClough) May 13, 2021
Didi Louzada hustling on defense for the Pelicans. If you didn't know what he brings then it is plays like this pic.twitter.com/rqpiZmVTkG— Caine Purnell (@caine_purnell) May 13, 2021
In 5 minutes, DiDi played the best defense ive seen from any pelicans player all season.— James Smith Jr (@iamjamesnumber1) May 13, 2021
Many are already looking forward to seeing what Didi can do against Stephen Curry in a matchup against the Warriors on Friday.
Jaxson Hayes, who has been a rollercoaster ride of a young player, had another noteworthy performance. He didn’t shoot markedly well from the field (4-10 FGA) — he didn’t nail a single 3-pointer, but the box score shouldn’t be the focus with Hayes.
There were moments of good fundamental defense and second efforts and teammates took note from the bench.
Steven Adams gave Jaxson Hayes a standing ovation from the bench after that defensive possession.— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) May 13, 2021
Wenyen Gabriel provided some quality minutes once again (seven points, five rebounds, one 3, one block), continuing a nice stretch on both sides of the basketball. He’s a player that I hope the Pelicans strongly considering picking up his team option because he’s able to do several things on the court with a nice motor attached.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker wasn’t particularly sharp (5-14 FGA) tonight, but Kira Lewis Jr. wrapped up the contest in Dallas well by scoring all 13 of his points in the final quarter.
Naji Marshall had 12 points and six rebounds, but he was forced to leave early in the fourth after a collision with Dorian Finney-Smith. He was seen clutching at his right shoulder in apparent pain while on the ground and then exited the game. The Pelicans didn’t have an update in postgame.
All in all, this matchup that decided the Pelicans’ postseason fate was underwhelming and hopefully we won’t see new names appear on Thursday’s injury report. But remember, there is enough to take from this year and hold healthy optimism levels about the team heading into the offseason.
This isn’t to say that the front office won’t be under an intense amount of pressure. Another finish to a season like this one is unimaginable so we should expect several major changes to the roster.
But first, let’s see what Didi, Kira and the rest of the young guys can do over the final two remaining games on the schedule.
Up next: Golden State Warriors
New Orleans will finish off their season series against the Warriors on Friday as Stan Van Gundy more than likely gives the youngest and most inexperienced parts of this roster an even greater workload.