Life comes at you fast.
The Golden State Warriors do it even faster.
The Pelicans got their latest reminder of that Monday night in Oakland, California, when they led the Warriors midway through the second quarter, then collapsed in the second half of a 125-107 loss.
“I thought we had a really good game plan for them and had done a good job,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “And then all of the sudden the floodgates opened, and that’s what they’re capable of doing.”
It was a reminder of the widening gap between two franchises whose trajectories have diverged dramatically since a first-round playoff meeting last season.
The defending champion Warriors are on a historic run, closing in on the greatest regular season in NBA history. Their win against the Pelicans on Monday guaranteed them at least a top-two seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.
New Orleans, meanwhile, will limp into Sacramento on Wednesday already looking ahead to next season.
Entering Tuesday’s games, the Pelicans were 9½ games behind the Dallas Mavericks for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. That gave New Orleans a “tragic number” of seven, meaning any combination of wins by the Mavericks and losses by the Pelicans totaling seven would mathematically eliminate New Orleans from the playoff race.
The Pelicans on Monday used their 33rd different starting lineup. Playing with a severely short-handed roster, Gentry admitted he’s altering his rotations at least in part with an eye on next season.
Forward Luke Babbitt has averaged 36.2 minutes per game over the past two games after playing 12.3 minutes per game in 29 previous appearances.
“We’re trying to play him minutes and take a look at him,” Gentry said in response to a question about evaluating for next season.
It was the latest sign that this has been a lost season for the Pelicans. They’ve lost 195 games to injury this season. That’s 87 more than last season, with 16 games left to play.
With four players — Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Quincy Pondexter — out for the season, New Orleans is guaranteed to have at least 259 games missed because of injury before the season ends.
And though that’s not the only reason the season has gone south, it’s one of the reasons the Pelicans already are looking ahead.
“We’re not going to use (injuries) as an excuse,” forward Anthony Davis said. “We have games that we could have won, games where we didn’t play hard, games we weren’t mentally focused, X, Y and Z. But you just got to find a way to win. Of course guys are hurt, but anybody that steps on the floor has got to be ready to play. We’re just trying to build a culture of guys that come here or are here (that are) going to play hard and leave it all on the floor.”