The New Orleans Pelicans were supposed to take the next step this season. Anthony Davis was going to blossom into a perennial MVP candidate as expected.
And the playoffs? The Pelicans were going to return without having to win on the last day of the regular season.
It hasn’t worked out that way.
Injuries, a new coaching staff and late-game breakdowns have contributed to a disappointing season for the Pelicans.
Rather than looking like a future Western Conference powerhouse, New Orleans has spent most of the season near the bottom of the standings. Consecutive wins put the Pelicans at 13-26.
“No one anticipated this type of season ,and it’s really tough,” said New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry. “It’s a tough situation, and it’s not a bit (frustrating) – it’s a lot frustrating.”
The West landscape makes New Orleans’ plight more troubling.
The Pelicans went 45-37 season, beating San Antonio in their regular-season finale to clinch a postseason berth ahead of Oklahoma City.
This season, the teams contending for that last playoff spot are below .500, making it highly unlikely 45 wins will be needed to advance.
So even with their record, the Pelicans are only four games out of the eighth and last playoff spot, but they need improvement and better luck with injuries.
“We have to bail our own selves out of this, and we’re not going to be able to do that until we become consistent in what we’re doing,” Gentry said.
It’s been a trying season for all involved.
“I think everybody’s frustrated,” said guard Tyreke Evans. “We know how good we are and we shouldn’t be in the position we’re in right now. We’re just trying to take it one game at a time and take it from there.”
Gentry replaced Monty Williams, who was fired after last season. Gentry was an assistant with Golden State last season and the hope was that he’d help the Pelicans implement a faster-paced offense.
A key to that is converting easy opportunities, and the Pelicans have struggled with that.
“We went through a week where we created 25 turnovers with the possibility of 50 points and we created 10,” Gentry said. “We have to be better because our defense is improving. We’ve been good defensively, but we’re not taking advantage of creating points.”
Gentry also wants more poise late in games, which he got in Friday’s win over Charlotte.
“Offensively and defensively, we’ve got to be solid in what we’re doing, can’t make mental errors,” Gentry said. “We get into too many close games where it wasn’t decided because the team made a play; it was decided because we didn’t execute or had a mental breakdown defensively. When you’re in close games, you’ve got to be able to execute down the stretch.”
There’s also this to consider: Last season was the first time key Pelicans such as Davis and Evans had reached the playoffs.
One of the lessons is that success is not guaranteed and must be earned every season. And if Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant had been healthy, New Orleans probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs.
“Definitely, the league is tough,” Evans said. “You’ve got to bring it every night. It’s a long season. We know what it takes; we’ve just got to get on that right track and figure out how we’ll take off.”
Fan voting for the NBA All-Star Game is a popularity contest involving way too much emotion.
But it’s always nice to see fans recognize players such as Golden State’s Draymond Green and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard who lack flashy stats yet make a big impact.
Kobe Bryant and Durant have two of the three starting frontcourt spots in the West all but locked up.
In tallies released Wednesday, Green led Leonard by just 12,321 votes for the third spot.
They are among the game’s best two-way players whose highlights might not be dunks but great defensive plays or timely passes.
Minnesota jumped out to a surprising 8-8 start that included six road wins. But the Timberwolves are 4-21 since then, including nine straight losses.
With young talent like Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, the future still looks bright. The present, however, is painful.
“Being a professional (professionalism) is so overlooked in our sport, but I always knew who I could look to if I ever wasn’t professional about this lovely game and that’s you. From one King to Another and to the Greatest PF to Ever play this game, all Love and Respect Timmy D!”
Cleveland forward LeBron James, in part of a post on Instagram about playing against Spurs great Tim Duncan. The Spurs beat the Cavs on Thursday.