On New Year’s Eve, the New Orleans Pelicans were looking pretty good. They were 14-15, just on the edge of the eighth seed in the Western Conference, and the majority of their key players were healthy, with only Ryan Anderson out of the lineup. Since then, just about everything has gone horribly wrong. The Pelicans are 1-8 in 2014 with their lone win coming against a lowly Boston Celtics team who has dealt with plenty of their own problems in the new year. Injuries to Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans have left this team a shell of its former self and their odds at making the playoffs are shrinking each day.
The one good thing going for the Pelicans is that they aren’t alone in going through hardship. The Phoenix Suns suffered a huge setback when Eric Bledsoe went down last week, which is likely to take them out of playoff contention. At the time, this appeared to be great news for the Pelicans,, but they’re probably in worse shape for a playoff bid than Phoenix at this point. Without Holiday, Evans or Anderson, this group has lost a ton of its offensive firepower. Anthony Davis is a phenomenal player, but he can’t do everything and the 19-year-old is far too young to be expected to carry an NBA franchise on his back.
In my last Pelicans piece, I suggested that the Pelicans were hanging on the fringes of the playoff race, but really, as the losses have continued to pile up, it would be near-impossible for them to reach the postseason now. The Bledsoe injury helps the Pelicans, but it’s not enough. Especially not when the Memphis Grizzlies — who play in Southwest Division with the Pelicans — had Marc Gasol return to the lineup this week. The Gasol injury, and the subsequent Grizzlies slump it caused, was the perfect opportunity for the Pelicans to leave the Grizzlies in the dust and gain valuable ground in the playoff race. Instead, the Pelicans are currently four games behind the Grizzlies and in much worse shape in terms of help. Even if the Pelicans pass the Suns, they have little chance of passing the Grizzlies. Or the Timberwolves. Or the Mavericks.
The Pelicans might spend the next month or fighting with everything they have to break into the top eight, but it’s looking more and more like a losing battle, especially with no timetable for Holidays return. That’s why, if the current win drought continues, we may see the Pelicans abandon their playoff aspirations and join the many other teams jockeying for position in one of the deepest NBA drafts in recent injury. Maybe Evans will be out a little longer than expected, maybe they won’t exactly hurry to bring Anderson back into the lineup. Maybe Anthony Davis will mysteriously reaggravate that left hand again. In any event, don’t be surprised if the Pelicans fade completely out of view in the playoff race very soon. they’re an extremely talented team and they will challenge in the establishment in the West in the coming years, but this year, the injuries have just been too much to handle.