For much of January, things were utterly miserable for the New Orleans Pelicans. They didn’t win their second game of the month until January 20th, and the injuries to Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson had clearly done serious damage to what was a formidable team earlier in the season. As the losses piled up, the Pelicans flew further and further off of the playoff radar, to the point where their record ranked among the worst teams in the Western Conference. Things looked bleak for the Pelicans, but lately, they’ve gotten their season on the right track, winning three games in a row, as well as four of the last five. The Pelicans latest push might not be enough to get them into the playoffs, but it shows beyond the shadow of a doubt that they won’t go down easily.
The reversal of the Pelicans fortunes began on Monday, January 20th, when they defeated the Memphis Grizzlies on the road by a final of 95-91. Not only did that game snap an eight-game losing streak for the Pelicans, it’s also the only time the Grizzlies have lost since Marc Gasol returned to their starting lineup. Beating the Grizzlies was a huge win for the Pelicans, as it gave them some much-needed confidence, while also establishing their toughness to the rest of the league. Following a disappointing loss to the Sacramento Kings, the Pelicans picked up right where they left off, reeling off wins against the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, and Cleveland Cavaliers. You could argue that this was not the strongest of competition, as all three of those teams are currently on the outside of the playoff picture in the lowly Eastern Conference, but it any event, the Pelicans have they made it clear that they have no intentions to bottom out in pursuit of a high-lottery pick (note: the Pelicans 1st round pick will go to the Philadelphia 76ers unless it lands in the top five, so that probably wouldn’t have been a good idea anyway).
So, what has sparked the Pelicans latest run of success? Well, it obviously helps to have a player like Anthony Davis on your team. Davis has established himself as one of the best power forwards int he league at only 20 years old, and his 30 points against the Cavaliers were a clear demonstration of that. Still, it’s not just about the star players. Brian Roberts had some big shoes to fill when he was forced into the starting lineup following the Holiday injury, but lately, he’s been more than capable of filling in as the starting point guard. Against the Cavaliers, Roberts put up 12 points on 4-8 shooting, along with six assists. Not superstar numbers to be sure, but enough to get the job done, and enough to keep the point guard position productive while Holiday recuperates.
Will the Pelicans recent string of victories prove to the beginning of a playoff march? It seems rather unlikely. They’re still 5.5 games beyond the 8-seeded Dallas Mavericks, and there’s still no timetable for the return of Holiday or Anderson. As good as the team has been lately, at some point the lack of depth will rear it’s ugly head again, and the Pelicans probably won’t be able to compete with deeper teams like the Grizzlies and the Timberwolves. Still, their recent performances show they aren’t going down without a fight, and that alone is admirable, whether they ultimately succeed or not.