By Casey Gisclair
I’ve said for months that the New Orleans Pelicans didn’t have a chance to make the playoffs in the brutally tough NBA Western Conference.
I’ve stuttered, taken a mulligan or two and have flip-flopped on that prediction about a dozen times as the Oklahoma City Thunder have limped around the court and have struggled to find firm footing with Kevin Durant on the bench.
But as we approach the final 10 games of the season, I have to go full-circle and come back to my original idea. It pains me to admit it, but I just don’t think that the Pelicans will have enough gas in the tank to make postseason play.
This season has been wild for our local professional basketball team. After several seasons of ineptitude, the Pelicans have finally found a mix that works. New Orleans is competitive and is one of the top 12 teams in the league.
But because the West is so tough, it likely won’t be enough. Barring a collapse in the final weeks, Oklahoma City should hold onto that No. 8 seed and reach postseason play.
It stinks to come up short, but no matter how things crumble, New Orleans’ 2014-15 season should be regarded as a success.
But while we hope for a miracle, we will lament on the past and talk about all of the things that have hamstrung the Pels along the way. Here are five things that New Orleans could have differently in their journey – a list that, if avoided, could have completely changed the team’s season.
#1 Dumb Losses: The Pelicans are the most bipolar team in basketball. The beat all of the good teams and struggle with the worst teams in the NBA. New Orleans has that rare Johnny Jones-like quality of always doing the unexpected to let a team’s fanbase down when expectations get high. The Pels lost to Denver (three times), Sacramento, Indiana (twice), Charlotte, Boston (twice), Philadelphia, New York, Utah, Orlando and Phoenix. By our math, that’s 14 dumb, stupid losses. Flip any five of those games around and the Pels are coasting toward the playoffs.
#2 AD’s Glass Joints: The dirty little secret that no Pelicans fan wants to admit is that Anthony Davis is a bit injury prone. For the third-straight season, AD will not reach the 70-game plateau because of various ailments that have plagued him throughout the year. Without AD, the Pels are a mess. Only having your ace for 65 or so games in the Western Conference is a tough hole to dig yourself out of.
#3 Other Injury Bug Bites: AD’s injuries deserved their own bullet point in the list because Davis is far and away New Orleans’ best player. But his supporting cast was battered and bruised for most of the year, as well. Jrue Holiday has been out for the past several weeks, as has power forward Ryan Anderson. Eric Gordon missed time with an injury and Tyreke Evans been in and out of the lineup, as well with various aches and bruises.
#4 A Lack of Offense: There are 15 NBA teams that average 100 or more points per game. The Pelicans are not in that list. New Orleans’ offense is too stagnant – often relying too heavily upon penetration by Evans and not enough on ball movement and teamwork. I’m a big analytics guy (to hell with Charles Barkley and his 0 rings), and I’m here to say that the Pels need to open things up, play a faster tempo and shoot more 3-pointers. Shooting mid-range jumpers is nice, but it’s a highly inefficient way to run your business.
#5 Uncertainty at the Top: I put this last because I’ve picked on Monty Williams enough in this column over the past several months. To me, my biggest gripe with the guy is that his rotations are inconsistent, which leads to shoddy chemistry. One night, Jimmer plays 20 minutes. The next two weeks, he doesn’t play at all. One night, Alexis Ajinca plays all game. Others, he gets two minutes of burn. It all seems so insignificant, but managing rotations are a huge part of the NBA game. Monty Williams struggles in that area and it hurts the Pels in all of these close games.