Round numbers make for useful sample sizes.
Yet, 10 games into the New Orleans Pelicans’ campaign it’s hard to draw many, if any, conclusions about whether they’re in position to compete in the upper echelon of the NBA.
If you want to find the positive, it’s easy to spot, considering the Pelicans were buried at the bottom of the Western Conference 10 games into each of the past two seasons. And if you’re focused on negative, there is ample evidence to support that position, too, given the lack of quality wins and largely uninspiring play.
The Pelicans are 5-5 entering Tuesday's 6 p.m. tipoff against the Indiana Pacers. It’s the third installment of a four-game road trip that began with New Orleans eking out victories over the lowly Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls on consecutive nights.
The trip is emblematic of the Pelicans’ season thus far. Stretches of sloppy, head-scratching and uneven play have seemed to outnumber the moments of crisp, heady basketball.
But the Pelicans left both arenas with a win.
“It’s a good feeling,” DeMarcus Cousins said after Saturday’s victory in Chicago. “We didn’t win in the fashion that we wanted to, but a win is a win. It’s hard to win on the road in the NBA. We’re going to carry these two wins to the next game; we’re going to use this momentum.”
On the flip side, two of New Orleans’ most inspiring outings came in losses to the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers (without Anthony Davis on the road). Despite being outmanned, the Pelicans leaned on their superstars, passed with vigor and defended, giving themselves a puncher’s chance before succumbing at the end.
That's a hill the Pelicans have yet to climb. They are 5-0 against teams with a .500 or worse record and 0-5 against opponents with a winning record.
Nothing else, to this point, seems to matter. Even the venue.
Outside of an eye-catching win over the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers, the Pelicans are winless in the Smoothie King Center, failing to capture home-court advantage at 1-3. However, after compiling a 22-60 road mark over past two seasons, they’ve raced out to a 4-2 record away from New Orleans.
“No matter what, it’s tough to get a win on the road,” Davis said Saturday. “We wanted to make sure that we just come out and play.”
Considering New Orleans stood at 1-9 at this exact juncture each of the past two years, the Pelicans will gladly accept a .500 record despite inconsistency.
The question, however, remains: Is this team capable of reaching the playoffs?
It’s the only inquiry that matters in a season defined by its urgency. Cousins is playing on the last year of his contract and repeatedly stated his desire to reach the postseason for the first time in his eight-year career.
A playoff appearance would go a long way in convincing him New Orleans is a viable long-term home.
General manager Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry also are at the end of their deals, and their future employment is likely tied to a playoff berth.
But after 10 games it’s hard to judge just how much progress the franchise has made. Tuesday’s game in Indiana could provide more insight.
A victory would give the Pelicans a winning record for the first time since April of 2015, a tangible sign of progress. Even if it’s ugly.
“I just want to win,” Davis said Saturday. “I’ll do whatever it takes to win. … We are just trying to get wins and do whatever (Gentry) wants me to do to try to get wins. And I’ll do whatever I have to do for the team.”