Eleven days ago, the New Orleans Pelicans (now 13-21) found themselves dealing with a 113-100 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. The Pelicans at that point had lost two-thirds (20 out of 30) of their games, and seemed destined to finish near the bottom of the NBA’s Western Conference.
But since losing to the second best team in the Western Conference and in the NBA overall, the Pelicans seem to have gotten their act together and have found a way to string together three-straight wins in their last four games, all of which have been played at home.
With their only loss coming at the hands of triple-double machine Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Pelicans have not only found a way to win; but they have found the way to do something that plagued them all of last season and the early portion of this season: close out games and get wins.
Playing in a very tough Western Conference, it is critical for the Pelicans to get wins to stay on pace with their competition in the conference and earn a spot in the NBA Playoffs.
Dec 28, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) scrambles for possession with Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Clippers 102-98. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Despite a rough start, this stretch of wins for the Pelicans puts them in a very good position going into 2017, to continue their quest of earning a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
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With one game left to play in 2016 against the New York Knicks on Friday, it would put the Pelicans at 14-21 overall. Currently, New Orleans sits three games behind Sacramento for the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
What do the Pelicans need to do to secure a playoff spot in 2017?
Continue to string together wins against quality opponents as well as defending their home court by getting victories there.
That way, it will be revealed as to whether or not the Pelicans’ growth is indeed a fact or an ongoing series of fiction.
As for now, New Orleans is winning and finding themselves as a team. However, this current success is not based on the level of play from Anthony Davis alone.
Beyond AD, there are four things that have helped the Pelicans in their current winning streak.
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 has returned and is slowly but surely getting back to normalcy
In the Pelicans’ win against the Los Angeles Clippers, Evans made some critical shots for New Orleans that sparked the comeback for the Pelicans, who trailed by seven at halftime.
On what was a subpar performance for Davis in the win, Evans finished with 12 points in 16 minutes. His play in the second half propelled his teammates to have confidence, which ultimately led them to a victory.
If he continues to play at this level consistently while improving and working through his injury, it gives New Orleans another key player other than Holiday and Davis to propel the Pelicans to victory.
Dec 28, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) shoots as Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) defends during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Clippers 102-98. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
- The Jrue Holiday Show
Since returning back to the team, Holiday has played tremendously. Regardless to if he starts or comes off the bench, Holiday has definitely hit some big shots and made some huge defensive stops in critical moments when the Pelicans needed them the most.
If New Orleans wants to make the playoffs, head coach Alvin Gentry will need to make sure he puts Holiday in the best position to do that for the team.
Since returning to the team on Nov. 18, Holiday is averaging nearly 15 points and seven assists per game. These numbers will need to remain consistent going into 2017.
Dec 28, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Buddy Hield (24) shoots over Los Angeles Clippers forward Wesley Johnson (33) during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Clippers 102-98. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
- Buddy Hield
For anyone who has been following the Pelicans, he or she would know that former University of Oklahoma basketball star and the sixth pick in the NBA Draft has struggled to adjust to the game of basketball at the NBA level.
Lately however, Hield has become more confident in himself and has learned to let the game come to him.
In the Pelicans’ victory against the Clippers, Hield provided a major boost in the fourth quarter, knocking down huge three pointers when the Pelicans needed them the most to secure the win. More importantly, he finished with 17 points in 23 minutes against the fourth-best team in the Western Conference.
This is great news and a huge bright spot for the New Orleans. If he continues to grow and adjust, as he shown; he provides the Pelicans with another dynamic force on offense — taking some of the pressure off of Davis, Holiday and Evans.
Nov 14, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Langston Galloway (10) goes up for a shot as he is defended by Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier (12) during the second quarter of the game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
- Quality production from the Pelicans’ bench
When the Pelicans’ bench outscores the opposing teams bench as well as produces more points than the Pelicans’ starters, New Orleans is usually on the winning side of a contest.
This needs to remain the same in 2017. While all of the bench players are key to the overall game plan for New Orleans, key bench players like Terrence Jones, Langston Galloway and Tyreke Evans, who is currently coming off the bench, serve a huge role in whether or not the Pelicans will win games.
Against the Mavericks, Galloway hit five three pointers and finished with 17 points to lift the Pelicans over the Mavericks. Performances like this, along with the help of Jones, Evans as well as others must remain consistent in 2017.
After their final game of 2016 against the Knicks on Friday, the Pelicans will return to action against the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers at 7 PM Eastern time on Monday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.