Sometimes all it takes is one play. Under the right circumstances, one possession can be enough to sum up an entire game or reflect what a team is all about.
In this case, it’s two plays from the last two games that perfectly capture the current state of the New Orleans Pelicans.
The first came in the final minutes of Friday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors.
The next came in the fourth quarter of Monday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings.
It’s the time of the season when every game counts, with so many Western Conference teams vying for playoff positioning. It’s a message the New Orleans Pelicans have told us they’ve gotten many times over the past few weeks.
But it’s hard to tell if that message gets through based on those two games, which involve a star (Brandon Ingram) sniffing a box in a two-point game with two and a half minutes left, followed up three days later. by a regular high-energy player (Naji Marshall) standing still instead of moving to receive a pass from CJ McCollum.
The Pelicans suffered another loss Monday night, ending a three-game road trip with a 123-108 loss at the hands of the Kings. It was New Orleans’ seventh loss in the last nine games.
Much like they did Friday against Golden State, the Pelicans looked uninspired. Apathetic. Not focused. Disorganized. They fell back almost immediately when adversity hit in the second half.
While the rapid drop in the standings must terrify them, the way this team is losing some of these games must set off even bigger alarms for everyone within the organization. The opportunity to gain momentum and solidify a place was right in front of them. Instead, the urgency and desperation just haven’t been there for a team that’s in the midst of what could become one of the worst meltdowns in franchise history. New Orleans is 5-17 in the last 22 games, and Monday’s loss put it in a four-way tie for ninth in the West with Portland, Utah and the Los Angeles Lakers. at 31-34.
There is no fight. No emotion. They’ve been too comfortable standing around as the building crumbles around them – and/or while another McCollum pass bounces out of bounds. Although the Pelicans have enough talent even without Zion Williamson to end the year with a better record than each of these other teams, the only way to do that is to start playing like a team that is hungry for a playoff comeback. playoffs.
Despite all of this, Pelicans coach Willie Green still has faith in the team to turn things around.
“None. I have no concerns how it’s going,” he told reporters when asked about his team’s recent slip. “We just have to keep sticking together , keep working and drop the chips where they can.”
The Pelicans’ season is about to fall apart, and they have their inept offense to thank
While it may seem like everything is falling apart for this team, there is still light at the end of the tunnel. The road to securing a spot in the Play-In tournament is clear if they ever pull themselves together.
According to Tankatahon, the Pelicans have the 28th strength on the schedule the rest of the way. Ten of their last 17 games have been at home, where this team is 20-11 to 11-23 away from the Smoothie King Center. Some of these home games include winnable contests against teams such as San Antonio and Charlotte. Of the seven games on the road, two face the lowly Houston Rockets. There are more than enough opportunities to cash in on a few wins and create some separation.
They also have two games left against Portland, one against Oklahoma City and one against the Lakers. Wins in those games would put the Pels in an even better position to lock in their spot.
But that’s assuming they’ll show up to one of those games with the right attitude and spirit to come away with a win. Given the way the Pels are playing right now, there’s a chance they could lose to anyone any night, even against teams like Houston and Charlotte. Games against top teams like Sacramento or Denver only reveal more of what New Orleans is missing. The schedule may be exactly what the Pelicans are hoping for, but there’s no guarantee they’ll take advantage of it.
The weirdest thing is that the uninspired vibe this team gives off often comes directly from the team’s most important players: McCollum and Ingram. They are meant to carry the team across the finish line. They did it last season.
“For us to be good as a team, (Ingram and I) have to be great,” McCollum said last week.
But when those two are bad, things get really ugly for this team. In Friday’s loss to Golden State, Ingram had 17 points on 6-16 shooting. In Monday’s loss to Sacramento, McCollum was even worse, finishing with 14 points on 6-14 shooting while finishing with more turnovers (5) than assists (3). Ingram also had six turnovers.
Warriors and Kings each threw up zone defenses that pissed off the Pelicans’ top players. More importantly, it seemed like they were both sleepwalking for much of these games.
Part of that blame lies with coaching. Zone defenses shouldn’t always be so hard for the Pelicans to break, even if their 3-pointers don’t fall.
Still, most of the blame lies with Ingram and McCollum for knowing when their team needs them to step in. Just as they received justified praise last year when this team fired full throttle during the stretch run, they deserve criticism for this season’s unease.
The way the same mix of players play consistently this season is night and day compared to the grit that became a central part of last season’s Pelicans identity. This team — and the stars who led them — were so hungry to live their moment and prove to the basketball world that they could compete at the highest level, even without Zion dressing up for the entire season. They played with a goal every night. Now that goal is hard to find.
The season is far from over. The talent still exists with this group, and the remaining schedule should give them a huge advantage against the teams they compete with for the final Play-In spots.
But how badly does this team want to get there? Do the Pels have what it takes to reignite the fire and fight for their place? Can Zion’s potential comeback from his hamstring injury be enough to get them through?
These questions will be answered in the coming weeks, and they will tell us a lot about the underlying composition of the team. But more importantly, this stretch will also tell us what should happen in the future to prevent this type of collapse from happening again.
(Top photo: Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)