Remember those good old days for the Pelicans?
It was less than a week ago.
To be specific, last Friday when Anthony Davis knocked down a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give a 116-113 victory at Oklahoma City in a playoff-intense atmosphere. Folks were actually talking about basketball instead of Tom Benson’s family squabbles.
Bring on Golden State!
But less than 24 hours later Davis suffered a sprained shoulder when he took a hard fall after a second quarter dunk against Chicago.
The Pels’ All-Star forward tried to go on, but came out after a minute and hasn’t played since.
And his team hasn’t won since, losing three straight in the Smoothie King Center to go into the All-Star break at 27-26.
Playoff fever has been replaced by armchair diagnosing of Benson’s upcoming psychiatric evaluation. In fact, for or the first time in a long time, the Pels are not the ninth-place team in the Western Conference.
OKC winners of three straight since Friday, including a victory against Memphis on Wednesday, is now 28-25, passing up the Pels. The Thunder is just a half-game behind Phoenix for the final playoff berth in the West.
Had the Pels won their last three, they’d be the team in the No. 8 spot. Instead, they look like the team that’s going to wind up third in a three team fight.
More troubling, the Pels have now lost five of their last eight against sub-.500 teams.
Losing to the Bulls last Saturday was excusable, even if Davis hadn’t been hurt. The Pels legs were spent after the night before.
But Monday’s 100-96 loss to Utah was bad and Wednesday’s 108-93 loss to Indiana was worse.
When you trail a team that came in 13-games under .500 (but is now only two games out of the final playoff berth in the East) by 22-9-after seven minutes and by 57-35 at halftime — at home, mind you, that’s not good.
Wednesday’s final 24 minutes weren’t any better, at least until garbage time when the Pels cut the final margin to a deceiving 13
Were the players that anxious to start their winter vacations?
In a five-day span they’ve lost home games by 35 and 13 points, the latter after trailing by 33 early in the fourth quarter.
Obviously having Davis, Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holliday out hurts.
You can’t be missing three of your top six players and win very often.
But the difference between this season and last year when Anderson, Holiday and starting center Jason Smith missed a total of 159 games, crippling what had been a promising start (11-10 by mid-December, compared to 10-11 at the same point this year), was that until the last three games this team had dealt with misfortune, both on and off the court, far better than last season.
On the court — victories against Toronto and the Los Angeles Clippers with Davis out, Tyreke Evans’ ability to shift from small forward to shooting guard to point guard wherever he was needed most and Pels Coach Monty Williams was more often than not making the right substitutional and situational decisions.
Off the court, the team found a starting small forward in free agent Dante Cunningham and was able to cut its losses with Austin Rivers by acquiring Quincy Pondexter via trade.
Compare that to last season’s midseason acquisitions of Alexis Ajinca and Luke Babbitt.
Or losing eight straight coming out of the All-Star break.
The improvements paid off in the team going 7-2 since that infamous 99-92 loss to the New York Knicks, capped by the victory against the Thunder.
And even now, they’re still over .500 since the Knicks game and still over .500 for the year.
Plus, when the season resumes on Feb. 20 with a back-to-back Florida road swing to Orlando and Miami, Davis will be back.
He could even play in Sunday’s All-Star Game. Davis has the team’s blessing do so because, as Williams put it. “He’s earned that right.”
Holiday, out now for a month with a stress reaction, is due back by then along with Anderson, who has soreness in his right elbow.
And there are 29 games left to play. A lot can happen.
“We’re in great position to make a run and show what we can do,” Cunningham said. “We’re going to take these next few days to recuperate and get ready for the second half,
“We’re going to come out with fresh minds and fresh bodies. We can’t get back the games we’ve lost, but we can hit the reset button for the rest of the season.”
Easy to say.
A lot harder to do.