After a blowout win against the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday evening, the New Orleans Pelicans (10-21) returned home and dropped their first game of a five-game home stand last night, losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 121-110 at the Smoothie King Center.
The Pelicans, who trailed by only three points to begin the fourth quarter, failed to slow down Russell Westbrook and the three point shooting of rookie Alex Abrines, who hit five three pointers and finished with 18 points.
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Despite Anthony Davis finishing with 34 points and 15 rebounds and Jrue Holiday recording his second double-double of the season with 23 points and 10 assists, it was not enough to defeat the Thunder.
Although the Pelicans have a losing record in an extremely competitive Western Conference, they are not far off the path from securing the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Currently, the Portland Trailblazers are eighth in the Western Conference with a record of 13-18. Behind the Trailblazers, the Denver Nuggets and the Sacramento Kings are tied for ninth and the Los Angeles Lakers are one game ahead of the Pelicans, sitting at 11th.
So, what does this mean?
It will be a challenge for them to compete for the eighth spot but it can be done.
With that in mind, here are four things for the Pelicans to consider, if they want to make a run for a playoff spot in the Western Conference:
Dec 21, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) dunks against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Thunder defeated the Pelicans 121-110. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
- Anthony Davis must continue and maintain his high level of play each game.
Davis, who is averaging nearly 30 points and 11 rebounds per game, must continue to put up these numbers if the Pelicans even want to fathom the idea of making the playoffs.
He is the key to the big idea or plan for the Pelicans success.
Davis’ supporting cast has to put him in the best position to make an impact each game, something that the Pelicans struggle to do during certain games and during critical points in a game.
His “supporting cast” must do the very word of this phrase, support and help him by contributing offensively and defensively each game.
Oct 16, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) talks with guard Tyreke Evans (1) and guard Jrue Holiday (11) during the second half of a preseason game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Thunder 120-86. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
- The performance from the Pelicans’ bench will play a key factor in the number of games they win.
Supporting cast, right?
In the 10 games that New Orleans has won this year, the production of players coming off the bench in addition to AD’s performance played a huge factor in the Pelicans getting victories.
This has to continue down the stretch of the season and especially during the next four games at home.
In the loss against OKC last night, the Pelicans had four players in double figures but only two players in double figures coming off the bench in Terrence Jones and Tim Frazier.
Nov 22, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Tim Frazier (2) dribbles against the defense of Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) during the first half at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
The Thunder outscored the Pelicans, 52-46, in bench production and finished with five players in double figures in which three were off the bench.
When the Pelicans have five or more players in double figures and win the bench production category, the Pelicans are more likely to win games.
For players like Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, E’Twaun Moore and Dante Cunningham, their contributions are needed for the Pelicans overall success.
Apr 14, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Tyreke Evans (1) against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half of a game at Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Thunder 101-89. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
- Tyreke Evans must continue to get healthy and find his way back in the rotation.
The Thunder-Pelicans matchup last night marked the third game back for Evans since he returned from a serious knee injury that has kept him off the court for 11 months.
On a positive note, he is back and he is allegedly getting back to full health.
It is important that he continues to get healthy as the Pelicans will need him down as the next portion of the season begins to unfold.
According to The Times Picayune, Evans said he is “starting to feel like his old self.”
Dec 13, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) is defended by New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) during the second quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
- The Pelicans must win at home and find ways to beat the top-tier Western Conference opponents.
Every NBA team has an 82-game season.
The best and elite teams find ways to win difficult games on the road and to defend their home court by not losing critical games in front of their home crowd.
After the loss against OKC, the Pelicans are 6-10 at home with four upcoming games in the Smoothie King Center. They have to take advantage of this.
It will not be easy but winning a majority of these games could really jump start the Pelicans level of play going into 2017.
Not to mention, the Pelicans first game of 2017 is on the road against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team with the second best record in the NBA.
The Pelicans will have their hands full to start the New Year. What better way to prepare for the first game of 2017 by fairing well in four-straight home games to end 2016……