Step on up and ride the amazing Pelican Coaster.
It goes up. It goes down.
And just when you think something is about to change, it goes right back where it started.
Perhaps you remember this ride from a year ago.
The Pelicans traveled a similar track, in a similar spot, for more than half of last season, before breaking out of it in the final 28 games to grab a playoff spot and sweep their way into the second round.
It set up expectations that this year’s path would be different. And a 4-0 start to this season provided evidence of a more appealing type of climb toward the postseason. One where the chase would be for home-court seeding rather than tap-dancing along the .500 line.
But here they are, at 13-14 and riding an equally bumpy path. The Pelicans’ past seven results are loss-win-loss-win-loss-win-loss.
New Orleans has been 4-4, 6-6, 7-7, 10-10, 11-11, 12-12 and 13-13 this season. Its inconsistency is serving as a magnetic polarity, always pulling them back toward even.
While more than two-thirds of the season remain, allowing ample time to turn an uneven start into a flourishing finish, the frustration at the moment is palpable.
Friday’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies might have been the nadir of this early course. New Orleans appeared poised to tally consecutive wins for the first time in three weeks, but was outscored 15-3 in the final five minutes, failing to make a single field goal down the stretch en route to a dispiriting 107-103 loss.
Anthony Davis left the locker room before reporters were allowed to enter, and several of his teammates expressed disappointment in not finishing off a winnable game.
So now, they’ll travel to Detroit for a 2:30 p.m. tipoff against the Pistons on Sunday, hoping to cling back to .500.
“We have to rescue ourselves,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “It’s on us. Not on anyone else. I take responsibility for it and I have to get our guys to the point where we are executing and we are finishing games down the stretch. That’s what I’m supposed to do.”
This topsy-turvy experience is less about the grand scheme of the season, and more about the confusion it unearths.
Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday are both playing at an All-Star level. Julius Randle is overpowering defenders in isolation and E’Twaun Moore has broken out offensively.
The Pelicans know their strengths. They lead the NBA in points in the paint (58.1 per game) and rank No. 4 in offensive efficiency.
Enough storylines have emerged for this team to show the rare air achievable when it’s clicking. Yet, the results are maddeningly middling.
Sometimes it’s defense (the league’s worst in the first-quarter and No. 24 overall). Sometimes it’s the bench, which has tallied the NBA’s third-lowest scoring output.
And occasionally there are nights like Friday, when the Pelicans clanked their way to making just 7-of-29 3-point attempts, including multiple game-tying misses in the final minute.
“Well, you’ve got to finish games,” Gentry said. "You know, I mean that’s just the bottom line. It’s not really complicated. It’s a simple thing.”
But, despite all the disappointment, the Pelicans’ predicament in the standings are in a shallow ditch, not a deep hole. The bunched up Western Conference allowed New Orleans to finish Friday night just five games out of first, despite sitting in 12th place.
So, there are significant dividends available if the Pelicans can get the track to click upwards. And they’ve been on this roller coaster before, knowing at any moment they can get off and crest toward contention.
This is more of a missed opportunity than a station of damnation.
There’s just no sign of them growing out of it yet. And while they try to figure themselves out, the uncertainty around the Pelicans grows.
Davis’ future with the franchise always swirls in the background and questions about the team’s validity will creep into the national conversation. While nothing has been lost to this point, the perception alone can create a problem.
But that’s what comes with the roller coaster. The ride can be exciting, but it’s predictable and you end up right back where you started.
Simply put, the Pelicans need to find a way off of it.
“There’s new pieces and new things going on and obviously it is still fairly early, so we have time,” Holiday said. “So, yeah we want to fix it right now and we want to fix it quick.
“But everything will fall into place. We’ll be alright.”