The New Orleans Pelicans aren’t writing off the playoffs.
Not yet, anyway. Not publicly.
Ask the Pelicans, and they’ll tell you they still hope to climb the 5½ games they need to secure the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference.
“I think we can do it,” forward Anthony Davis said last week. “I think we’ve got enough talent here.”
It doesn’t take much reading between the lines, though, to see a shift in the way New Orleans talks about its season. With 24 games left — and two teams to hurdle to catch Houston for the No. 8 seed — coach Alvin Gentry has told his team to focus on having the best record in the NBA after the All-Star break, and he has talked regularly of establishing a foundation for the future.
Even Gentry hasn’t abandoned playoff talk, but as the postseason becomes increasingly unrealistic — ESPN.com’s projections Sunday gave the Pelicans a 1.1 percent chance of reaching the playoffs; FiveThirtyEight.com had their chances at 3 percent — he has become more focused on setting a tone.
That starts in part with picking up the pace on an offense that finally is starting to play like one of the NBA’s fastest.
Gentry arrived in New Orleans from Golden State, where he had been associate head coach for the Warriors’ NBA title run, spurred by MVP Stephen Curry and a high-octane, pace-and-space offense that was an evolution of the one Gentry ran with Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix.
But for most of this season, New Orleans has played at a relatively pedestrian pace.
For the year, the Pelicans are averaging 98.6 possessions per 48 minutes. That ranks 12th in the NBA, well behind the Kings and Warriors, who average 102.4. Before the All-Star break, New Orleans averaged 98.1 possessions, which ranked 14th in the league.
But in five games since the break, the Pelicans are averaging 103.2 possessions per 48 minutes, good for sixth in the league over that span. The Pelicans are 3-2 since the break.
“I think we’ve competed at a real high level,” Gentry said. “I think we’ve executed, done a good job with the execution. And I think the pace that we’ve played has been favorable to what we’re trying to get to.”
That comes with some growing pains.
The Pelicans averaged 12.9 turnovers before the break, the second-fewest in the league. They’re averaging 15 per game since, the 13th-most. That has meant slightly fewer shot attempts since the All-Star break (84.8 per game) than before (86).
But New Orleans is averaging 110.8 points per game since the break, tied for fourth in the league and well above its season average of 102.9. The Pelicans have averaged 21.8 assists this season but are dishing out 22.6 since the break.
“I think we have a lot of attempts,” point guard Jrue Holiday said. “I definitely think that we’re sharing the ball a lot better. We just have a couple defensive breakdowns that you can’t have. But offensively I think we’re in a good flow and a good rhythm and it’s fun to play.”
Guard Toney Douglas, who played in the D’Antoni offense in New York, said the Pelicans are “most definitely” getting closer to running the up-tempo system the way it’s intended to be run.
“The last couple years, we played slow when we played with (former coach) Monty Williams, but it was effective,” Douglas said. “But it’s an adjustment. It’s not going to happen on the fly. We’re picking up things a lot better than we did the first half of the season.”
The Pelicans rank 10th in the NBA in offensive efficiency — a measure of points scored per 100 possessions — at 103.7. Since the All-Star break, they rank just one spot higher but are averaging 108.2 points per 100 possessions.
Gentry wants an even faster and more efficient offense moving forward. He’ll try to continue speeding it up as the season winds down.
“We’ve got to try these last (24) games to try to get it where we want to get it to,” Gentry said. “That’s why you might see me a lot of times saying, ‘Push it! Push it! Get it in!’ because I think you’ve got to establish the mentality. We’ve just got to continue to try to push it and see if we can get it to the point where we like it.”