New Orleans Pelicans still on playoff path?

New Orleans Pelicans Alvin Gentry of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
New Orleans Pelicans Alvin Gentry of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

New Orleans Pelicans are facing an uphill battle in the new year but are still in a comfortable position to make a playoff push. Looking at the schedule played and games remaining show it is too early for any excess panic from Pelicans fans.

Alvin Gentry is sitting on a mandate to win playoff series. Winning playoff series is the most obvious way to convince Anthony Davis to stay with the New Orleans Pelicans. The first step of that process is to actually make the playoffs. Being on track to make the playoffs helps to stem the tide of Anthony Davis trade articles, even if those articles are basically merit-less, as of now.

The Pelicans played as a .500 squad last year, save for one ten game stretch of brilliance. This year, it seems every other team in the Western Conference got better while the Pelicans made even money trade offs for talent this off-season.

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Pelicans are in 14th in the NBA Western Conference standings, sporting a 17-22 record after the loss against the Brooklyn Nets open the 2019 section of the schedule. The path to the playoffs gets a lot clearer with a winning record in January, which is all but necessary to remain in the playoff chase.

The Pelicans play 10 games against Western Conference teams out of 14. Only five games are at home. The 5 game road trip starts in cold Minnesota, skips down the coast and then ends in Memphis. Losses to the teams the Pelicans are chasing only serve to double the gap in the standings.

The Pelicans played the 9th toughest schedule in the 2018 portion of the schedule, going by ESPN’s RPI Index page. The bad news is January may be the Pelicans toughest month of games. Only the two games against Cleveland are marked as likely wins.

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However, the Pelicans have seven of the last ten games come against either the Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks, or Orlando Magic to end the season. The Kings are making a run, but those teams are likely to start tanking soon, and losses for Zion will be just as Pelicans wins for the playoffs.

This season the Pelicans have again dealt with injuries holding the team back. Elfrid Payton is back to guiding wins, with Nikola Mirotic expected back on the court soon. Anthony Davis has missed time and games in what is now a trend with Davis. With a healthy team, the Pelicans have been tremendous. Without a healthy squad, any playoff series would be a slaughter. No one wants to feel like Portland did last year. A sweep now is far different than Davis’ first playoff appearance.

One problem holding the Pelicans back is that expecting 75 healthy games from Davis is no longer reasonable. At least five game a year the Pelicans must win without Davis, despite his assertions on needing to play aiming every night just to have a chance at a win. The Pelicans have won without Davis this season, but that’s not sustainable.

A winning January with a healthy team going into the All Star break and through the trading deadline is paramount to a successful season. If the Pelicans are still in 14th in the middle of February, then the season is all but un-salvageable.

Consistent play and some way to mitigate the lack of wing talent can be sorted in time to make the playoffs, but only with a full complement of healthy players. An upgrade in wing talent is needed to truly be considered a dark horse contender.

The Pelicans as constructed can win a playoff series. Only of couple of teams are drastically better looking at on paper talent. With a full complement of players available, the Pelicans are capable of making a run. The evidence is still fresh in our minds, from last year. The only worrisome thing about the Pelicans as they stand is the belief may be waning.

The hypothetical panic modes are basic and easily separated.

If fans are skeptical, that is fine and shows the market wants to watch good basketball. If the players are anxious, that’s understandable, as they have future contracts and competitive desires to balance with mounting losses. If Gentry is doubting the course, then Demps needs a new coach for Davis for next year. If Demps is worried about the roster and is debating a panicked trade, ownership needs to take control. If Davis is showing signs of panic or doubt, we will know the playoffs are unlikely and that a reboot is likely.

If the healing Pelicans can find some wins in the next month, most of these worries, anxieties and doubts will be cured.