Anthony Davis was somber and straight-faced, frustrated as he tried to explain his team’s most recent inexplicable loss.
But he wasn’t giving up.
An hour or so after the Pelicans lost a Thursday night home game to the Los Angeles Lakers — their third straight loss, and their second this season to the worst team in the Western Conference — Davis maintained that New Orleans still has its sights set on the postseason.
“We’ve been playing well the past couple weeks, and we’ve been taking steps backward,” Davis said. “We can’t allow ourselves to do that if we want to be able to achieve one of our goals.”
That goal — always an uphill climb after a 1-11 start — suddenly sits on a steeper slope.
New Orleans, which plays at Cleveland at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, entered NBA play Friday 5½ games behind Utah for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. Three teams sat between the Jazz and Pelicans for that slot.
And New Orleans is fading.
The Pelicans are further out of the No. 8 seed now than they were Jan. 19, when they started a seven-game homestand on which they went 5-2.
Analysis site FiveThirtyEight.com, which breaks down sports — not to mention politics and economics — by the numbers, on Friday gave the Pelicans a 6 percent chance of reaching the postseason.
The eye test painted even longer odds Thursday, when the Pelicans trailed by as many as 13 points, made a furious rally, then fell when Kobe Bryant took over late and Jrue Holiday’s 3-pointer to tie misfired at the buzzer in a 99-96 loss.
Davis had 39 points, but Gentry afterward said his team played selfishly and didn’t involve its star player enough.
“If you don’t move the basketball, you’re just jumping up and shooting shots,” Gentry said. “We’re not talented enough to do that. We have to be a team that plays as a team. We didn’t do that (against the Lakers). We got a guy, A.D., who’s dominating down there, and we’re struggling to get him the ball. He should’ve had 30 shots.”
Gentry lamented his team’s lack of defensive execution — it allowed 59 first-half points to a Lakers team that averages 96.3 per game, fourth-fewest in the NBA — and put the blame on himself for a late-game breakdown that saw the Pelicans waste precious seconds before fouling Bryant.
Gentry was disappointed that his team fell so far behind that even its late run was only to close the gap — not to take the lead and put the heat on the Lakers.
In that way, the game was much like the season has been. The hole the Pelicans fell into at the start of the season has made climbing into the playoff picture a daunting task. Two losses to the Lakers make the climb that much more taxing.
“Obviously there are must-win games, and we feel like this one and the last time we played them should have been must-win games,” Holiday said. “(When) you kind of drop the ball like that, it makes it a lot harder on yourself.”
Harder, but not impossible. At least, not mathematically.
New Orleans has four games remaining before the All-Star break — and the Feb. 18 trade deadline — to evaluate just how realistic a run to the playoffs is. That stretch starts Saturday against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
“The crazy thing is, we keep coming up with these bumps in the road, but we still have an opportunity — if we just put together a little win streak — to be back in the race,” Gentry said. “But we’re not going to do it when we play (like Thursday).”