Pelicans blow big early lead, lose at home to Rockets 95-93 _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SHERRI MILLER -- New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) prepares to make a free throw as the Pelicans host the Rockets at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans on Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2015.

Well, that didn’t last long.

The Pelicans’ time “in” the playoffs, we mean.

It was about the nanosecond it took for Anthony Davis to suffer a sprained ankle last Thursday in Phoenix starting an infectious run of injuries that resulted in the worst road trip since Napoleon invaded Russia.

And at least Napoleon got one more chance at Waterloo.

The Pels got one of their own Wednesday.

And they proceeded to lay an Easter-egg sized orb against the Houston Rockets, 95-93 before a half-filled, lackluster Smoothie King Center crowd that was outcheered from start to finish by a contingent of about 30 Rockets fans who stood throughout, chanted M-V-P for James Harden (Remember when Pels fans were doing the same for Anthony Davis?) and otherwise helped their playoff-bound team to a victory that solidified their hold on third place in the Western Conference.

To make it worse, Oklahoma City and Phoenix, the teams standing between the Pels and eighth place in the Western Conference both lost Wednesday.

Maybe those Rockets fans knew what was coming show they showed up ready to celebrate.

And maybe those folks with tickets who never seem to make it to the Smoothie King Center for midweek games (How can a game be sold out and yet “Guys Night Out” ticket packages were being hawked on TV Sunday?) sensed what was coming, too.

Actually, it should have been the other way around.

Know who has best intradivisional record in the Southwest?

Memphis at 8-6.

Know who’s second?

The Pelicans at 7-6.

Dallas is 7-7, Houston 6-6 and defending NBA champion San Antonio a surprising 4-7.

And yet, the Pelicans are last in the division.

Want a reason why?

The Pels have lost 13 home games, most in the division. Of those 13 games, six had come against teams with losing records.

Do more than split those and the Pels are right there with OKC and Phoenix for that last final playoff berth.

Instead they’re 3½ behind the Thunder with 11 to play and a game back of Phoenix.

And running out of time. The regular season ends in three weeks.

Even before Wednesday, Basketball-Reference.com had reduced the Pels’ playoff chances to just 4.5 percent, giving the Thunder at 92.5 percent probability of getting in.

Needless to say, the Pels’ odds now are about as great as my getting a date with Sophia Vergara.

Hey, it could happen.

But at least I have an excuse.

The Pels had little for what happened Wednesday.

They had come home from the West Coast with their egos bruised as well as their bodies. But a couple of days out at 5800 Airline Highway supposedly had helped heal both, and they were playing a team they’d run out of the gym, 111-83 back on Jan. 2.

And for one quarter, they were as good as they’ve been all season — shooting 75 percent as they roared out to a 34-19 lead.

But the Pels turned sluggish and sloppy after that, shooting just 38 percent the rest of the way, although incredibly having a shot at overtime, or even to win, at the end.

Things didn’t go their way though, just as they didn’t when Tyreke Evans couldn’t get enough lift to make a 6-footer at the end against the Suns last Thursday and Davis’ drew a questionable goal-tend against the Los Angeles Clippers that resulted in soul-crushing seven-point swing in a seven-point loss on Sunday.

That’s the way it’s going now.

As if the injuries weren’t enough.

Contrary to the Rockets fans’ chants, Davis also has MVP numbers. But his 14 games missed before Wednesday represent 20 percent of the season.

It’s not that AD isn’t tough. He reinjured his shoulder Wednesday in a game when it looked like his team was impossibly behind and gamely came back in at the finish.

The game goes for the rest of those on the injury list.

They’re not nursing their ailments. Before Wednesday’s game, Pels coach Monty Williams said it’s primarily just the breaks of the game, adding the coda that everything the team does as far as conditioning and strength training will be examined in the offseason.

“We’ve limited our practice time in the last four seasons, and we still have more injuries than we did before then,” he said. “Back in the day, teams practiced for three hours.

“But I don’t think old school players were any tougher.”

Whatever the reason, the injuries have been killers.

Want an example of how much difference it makes?

Atlanta, 38-44 last year, which was just four games better than the Pels, is 53-17 and leads the East by eight games.

The Hawks’ top eight players have missed a total of 55 games. Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson combined have missed 51 for the Pels — and counting.

Some teams — like Houston and Oklahoma City with Russell Westbrook — have overcome injuries to former MVPs Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant, respectively, with out-of-this-world efforts by Harden, Westbrook and their supporting casts.

The Pels have some nice complementary players to Davis, but not enough to make up for the number of unavailable players they’ve had on so many nights as not this year.

Oh, well.

The Pels have now lost four straight, and had it not been for a missed buzzer-beater by Milwaukee, it would be six straight.

At least the folks who run Tom Benson’s other team are assuring fans that everything’s going to be OK come this fall.

So don’t lose all hope.