“It is obvious that this team, now 20-21, does not have it in itself to mount the kind of effort over the second half of the season to earn a playoff berth in the Western Conference.”
— The Advocate, Jan. 20, 2015
Who wrote this drivel?
Well, if you’re reading the print version of the newspaper right now, you’re looking at him.
Admit it, though: Most of you would have agreed.
But here we are, headed into March, and since that infamous loss to the New York Knicks that left the Pels a game under .500 at the season’s midpoint, they’ve gone 11-6.
They woke up Saturday morning to find themselves just a half-game behind Oklahoma City for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
And to boot, this run has come without Anthony Davis for six games (plus the majority of two more), Ryan Anderson for six games and Jrue Holiday for all 17.
“We finally know what it takes,” Eric Gordon said after scoring 20 points and feeding Alexis Ajinca for the tying and winning points in the Pels’ 104-102 victory against Miami on Friday night. “It’s fun. Everybody’s paying attention to detail and playing hard with each other. Whoever falls, we still have enough talent to still win games.”
Apparently so, but raise your hand if you had Ajinca (career-high 24 points vs. Miami), Quincy Pondexter (career-high 25 vs. Brooklyn) or Luke Babbitt (season and team high 18 vs. Toronto) on your fantasy team this past week.
“Lexis, Luke and those guys step off the bench and work on their games every day,” coach Monty Williams said. “You give them a chance, and they will show what they can do.”
And don’t forget Tyreke Evans, playing with a host of ailments, who said before Friday’s game, “If I’m not dying, I’m playing.”
In the 17 games since the start of the second half of the season, Evans has had 10 double-digit assist games. That’s one more than the team had combined in its first 41.
Or, as Heat coach Eric Spoelstra put it, “What (the Pelicans) are doing shows grit.”
That grit will be tested this week.
The Pels begin their busiest stretch of the season — five games in seven days — Sunday by starting a back-to-back at Denver and Dallas. That’s followed by a home game against Detroit on Wednesday and a home back-to-back against Boston and Memphis on Friday and Saturday.
While there has been no official word, it’s unlikely that Davis will be back before the weekend at the earliest. Holiday and Anderson were both still limping as they exited the locker room Friday night, so they’re not going to be returning anytime soon.
Williams will never acknowledge looking past the next game, but Gordon on Friday acknowledged the task just ahead.
“It’s definitely a big challenge,” he said. “This late in the season with less guys, it gets a lot tougher. We just need to start with a good road trip.”
That begins with Denver, which is 2-0 against the Pels this season while going 18-38 against everyone else.
Before their Jan. 28 victory in New Orleans, the Nuggets had lost seven straight. Since then, they’ve lost 11 of 12, including a 104-82 home loss to Utah on Friday.
So it would seem that, unless Denver can be considered “due” Sunday, things should go the Pels’ way. But given how the team’s failure to rise to the occasion in just such situations this season, nothing is a given.
Certainly the Pels are running out of mulligans.
Oklahoma City and Phoenix aren’t going away.
The Thunder may have lost a tough road back-to-back against the Suns and Portland, but Russell Westbrook is having an otherworldly season in the absence of reigning league MVP Kevin Durant.
In February, Westbrook became the first and only player other than Oscar Robertson to average at least 30 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in a calendar month.
OKC plays 14 of its remaining 23 games at home, while the Pels play 13 of their 24 remaining games on the road.
Phoenix seemingly would have a tougher remaining schedule than either the Pels or the Thunder, but the Suns’ overtime victory against the Thunder on Thursday shows they’ll be a tough out.
So Davis or no Davis, there are going to be skeptics that the Pels can squeeze into the playoffs.
“Everything has to go right for them,” ESPN analyst Jon Barry said Friday. “Obviously they’re dealing well with injuries now, but you can’t expect them to do that for the long run. Eventually you’ve got to get your studs back. I just see Oklahoma City being the one to get in, especially when they get Durant back.”
Similarly, BasketballReference.com’s simulations have the Pels going .500 the rest of the way, finishing 43-39 — three games behind Oklahoma City for eighth, with Phoenix 10th at 42-20. The same simulations give the Pels a 17.4 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Count Evans among the skeptics about that.
“We ain’t worried about the computers, man,” he said. “I know they’re smart, but damn. We’re just worried about doing what it takes to win games.”
At least 17.4 percent is better than the 10.0 percent chance the computers were giving the Pels going into last week.
And it’s a lot better than the 0 percent that goofball was giving them back in January.