The standings are bleak.
The performance is uneven. The fan base is distracted.
But coach Alvin Gentry doesn’t sense the New Orleans Pelicans are loafing into 2019. Instead, for all of the maladies suffered in this tumultuous first half of the season, the Pelicans seem largely pleased with their effort.
While the results are universally viewed as insufficient and unacceptable, the Pelicans don’t believe they’re in need of a vast shift in mentality. The prevailing opinion is they just need to execute better.
The topic arose following the Pelicans’ 114-112 win over the Dallas Mavericks, when players said Gentry unleashed a curse-laden diatribe on them at halftime, spurring a third-quarter rally and crucial home victory.
It raised the obvious question: Is this what’s necessary to generate a winning performance?
Gentry says no.
“I think we have competed hard,” Gentry said. “We haven’t played well all of the time, but I think we’ve competed and played pretty hard. I just didn’t think we started that game they way we should, considering our situation. We were playing a home game we desperately needed to win.
“But, for the most part it hasn’t been an issue. We’ve played hard and competed; we just didn’t do it in that situation and it was bothersome, so I said something.”
It’s that effort which allows the Pelicans to believe they’re still capable of turning the season around, despite entering Monday’s matchup with the Timberwolves fighting for 13th place in the Western Conference.
It’s been the close losses, in the big moments, that have buried New Orleans’ record. It’s not so much lackadaisical starts or bewildering stretches of sloppy play.
And the marginal differences between winning and losing is what provides a glimmer of optimism, even at the tail end of a difficult month.
“For sure,” Jrue Holiday said. “I mean yeah, but I’d rather be there. I’d rather be there than losing by 10, 15 points or getting blown out or feeling like we gave up. But man, we never give up, and I feel like I can always rest my head at night knowing that we are always going to play hard.”
The question is whether the effort will actually pay dividends in the long run.
And whether the effort is being masked by the burden of playing too many minutes.
Anthony Davis leads the league in minutes per game, averaging 37.1 per night. Holiday is No. 2, tallying 36.8.
Together, they are the only teammates among the Top 13 in the league. And it takes a toll over the course of a game and a season.
It’s an issue Gentry has addressed often, but with a roster limited by injuries and a position near the bottom of the standings, there are few other choices. But when the game comes down to the end, even if Gentry is pleased with the Pelicans’ effort, it too often comes up short when it’s needed most.
Perhaps the results will turn in 2019, especially with Elfrid Payton’s imminent return and Nikola Mirotic steadily rehabbing his sprained right ankle. In the meantime, though, the Pelicans know they can’t let their energy dip at all.
“We always go out and try to play hard,” Anthony Davis said. “No one goes into the game and says they’re going to play hard that night. We give it our all and try, because it’s always our intention to give a lot of effort and energy.
“Sometimes, your body just can’t go out there and do the stuff you always want it to do. We have a game where everyone uses a lot of energy, like the Dallas game, and then you have one the next night against a team that’s playing well. It’s tough, but everyone’s intention is to go out there and play hard.”