The New Orleans Pelicans might beat the Indiana Pacers on Friday.
New Orleans has shown the capacity to beat almost any team on a given night, and because there’s been little consistency in effort or execution, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry doesn’t know what he’ll get from night to night.
But even if New Orleans wins Friday, Gentry won’t be over Wednesday, won’t quickly move past the Pelicans’ 100-91 loss to a Dallas team resting four starters in a game that could have vaulted New Orleans up a spot in the standings.
“(That) game is still a game that lingers, because it shouldn’t have been what it was,” Gentry said after Thursday’s practice. “Now here we are once again back to the same old thing of saying, ‘Oh, we’re only this many games out of the playoffs.’ But we’re not going to get there. Just realistically, guys, unless we change our approach and what we’re doing and the effort that we’re playing with, we’ve got no chance of being a playoff team.”
The Pelicans (11-23) entered Thursday’s games four games behind the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
And it’s likely that Gentry’s warnings about the challenges of making up those four games are intended to spark a sense of desperation in a team that hasn’t often shown one this season.
Forward Ryan Anderson said Thursday that Gentry has been emphasizing “a lot lately” that these are must-win times for the Pelicans.
“But there’s no thought — I can tell you going down the line ——there’s no thought that we’re not going to make the playoffs, like we’re packing in the year or something,” Anderson said. “No way.”
If the Pelicans still hope to make up those four games — and hurdle the five teams between them and the Jazz — they likely can’t afford many more nights like Wednesday.
“It’s frustrating, more so the fact that we had an opportunity to move up in the (standings),” forward Anthony Davis said. “Just can’t ever seem to do it. It’s not like we’re 15 games behind. We’re four games, five games (back), and we just can never get over that hump. It’s more frustrating, but I know we can do it. We just have to find a way to put some wins together.”
That’s been a common refrain this season, but the Pelicans have spent most of it searching for the sort of consistency it will take to string together a run of success.
Gentry sounded this week like a coach willing to shake things up to find it.
By Thursday, he wasn’t ready to detail specific changes. But he reiterated what he’d said after the Dallas loss — that the Pelicans can’t afford to stand pat.
“Maybe we expand our rotation,” Gentry said. “Maybe we change our starters. I don’t know. But we’re going do something. We got another day to sleep on it and think about it, but there’s got to be some changes made, because what we’re doing right now is not working.”
The Pelicans had a “long meeting” Thursday, Anderson said, and “talked things through as a group.” It’s not the first time this season the Pelicans have met to try and get on the right track.
Still, they’ve struggled, not only to consistently execute, but to give the same effort night in and night out.
“One of the things that we talked about (Thursday) is that, when we walk into the locker room at halftime, the last thing in the world we need to be talking about is effort,” Gentry said. “What we need to be talking about is adjustments — screen-and-roll wise, what are we going to do on this or the angle or should we change something. We should not be talking about effort, and that’s not good.”
A season ago, the Pelicans rallied from a 17-17 start to make the playoffs. They went 6-3 in the final nine games of the season to secure the No. 8 seed.
There is time to make another run, but Gentry wants his players to understand that, barring significant improvement, that time is likely to run out.
“We were in desperation mode (last season),” Anderson said. “There’s a clear end to the season, and you (could) see that, ‘If we do this, we’re going to make the playoffs.’ There’s a clear-cut, defining mission. Right now, we’ve gone through every excuse in the book. We’re about the midway point in the year almost, and we can’t really use those excuses anymore.”