If there is power in positive thinking, then maybe you can’t count out the Pelicans just yet.
The odds of a playoff push are faint and waning in New Orleans. They have been slim since a 1-11 start to the season. And yet All-Star Anthony Davis spent his break insisting the Pelicans’ goals haven’t changed — even at 20-33 and 6½ games out of the final Western Conference playoff spot.
“We’ve got to come together,” Davis said. “We’ve got to have one common goal, and that’s to make the playoffs right now and have everybody be on board and everybody play for each other.”
But as the Pelicans return from the All-Star break — they’re back at practice Wednesday and host the Philadelphia 76ers at 7 p.m. Friday in the Smoothie King Center — the deck is stacked against them.
Statistical projection site FiveThirtyEight.com gives the Pelicans a 5 percent chance of reaching the postseason, an accomplishment that would require hurdling at least four teams in the standings over the season’s final 29 games.
The odds haven’t been in New Orleans’ favor all season.
The Pelicans have lost 158 player games to injury. In coach Alvin Gentry’s first year with the club, they have struggled to field a consistent lineup — he has used 24 starting combinations — and to gel on either end of the court.
“In 27 years, I’ve never experienced anything like this — I can tell you that,” Gentry said. “At one stage, we had one starter (available) and four guys sitting out. We had at one stage five of our top seven guys sitting out, or (the top) eight guys. It’s just been one of those years.”
As bad as the start has been, the Pelicans insist they aren’t finished. The question is whether New Orleans has the personnel to make a push.
Last week, Gentry reiterated that the Pelicans “have enough guys to go out and play, and we expect them to play at a high level and compete at a high level.” But those injuries make it easy to question whether the Pelicans, as they’re constructed now, have the talent to make a late-season run.
Point guard Tyreke Evans is out for the season after a third knee surgery in less than a year. Shooting guard Eric Gordon is out with a fractured right ring finger. Swingman Quincy Pondexter is sitting the entire season after May knee surgery.
With Thursday’s trade deadline approaching, New Orleans is running out of time to add pieces for the stretch run. Davis, the Pelicans’ franchise player, is untouchable. And New Orleans might be reluctant to deal its second-most lucrative trade piece, point guard Jrue Holiday.
Still, the Pelicans could be active at the deadline.
Gordon and forward Ryan Anderson will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, and it’s unlikely the Pelicans will re-sign either. Contenders looking to upgrade their outside shooting could pursue them as late-season rentals, or with the idea of re-signing them in the offseason.
The Detroit Pistons have been in regular contact with the Pelicans about Anderson, multiple sources told The Advocate, but multiple media outlets have reported that Detroit might prefer Anderson — who played for Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy in Orlando — as a free-agent target in the offseason. The Sacramento Kings and Toronto Raptors also reportedly have shown interest in Anderson.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported Tuesday that the Pelicans have interest in adding a center and have had discussions with the Milwaukee Bucks about Greg Monroe, the New Orleans native who played at Helen Cox High School. But it’s unclear whether the Pelicans have the assets a player of Monroe’s caliber would command, particularly if they’re unwilling to part with Holiday.
Whether the franchise makes deadline moves to attempt a playoff push — or with an eye on the future — Gentry said he expects his team to approach the stretch run as if it’s a postseason contender.
Even if the odds say otherwise.
“I think we’ll come back and compete like crazy, and we’ll try to see where that lands us,” Gentry said. “If it’s the playoffs, fine. If not, then we’ll regroup and we’ll come back again. That’s what competitors do.”