By Chris Taylor
The New Orleans Pelicans warmed up fans inside the Smoothie King Center Saturday night as they hosted, and easily handled, a struggling (2-9) Phoenix Suns team: last place in the Western Conference. The Pelicans came into the arena with a 5-6 record, looking to reach the .500 mark against the struggling Suns, and separate themselves from the bottom dwellers of the Western Conference. How did the Pelicans find themselves in this position, after what looked to be a very promising start to the season?
Following a hot start, winning four-straight games to open the season, the Pelicans were infected by the injury bug, yet again. Star player Anthony Davis injured his elbow in the fourth game of the season. Davis would miss the next two games, which his team would lose. This was just the start of a painful six-game losing streak, dropping them from #1 to #11 in the Western Conference. With Davis out and the Pelicans losing in response to the injury, it proved how important Davis is to this team. Despite missing 4 games, Davis still leads the team in four different categories: points, rebounds, steals and blocks. The Pelicans 2012 #1 draft pick is becoming the player they need. Davis is carrying his team on his back every night and doing all he can to win. He has showed why he should be in this year’s MVP conversation and proving why he is one of the best players in the NBA.
The Pelicans’ defensive struggles also contribute to their sub .500 record. New Orleans has the 23rd ranked defense in the NBA, allowing 111.2 points per game. The Pelicans are also giving up high triple-digit games, ranking 25th in points allowed in the paint and 22nd in fast-break points allowed. Both stats originate back to the injury of Anthony Davis. With Davis out, the Pelicans are missing a huge rim-protector on defense and their main rebounder on offense. Defense has not been most teams main focus this year, with the #1 defense in the league giving up about 100 ppg as well. Even though this may be the case, the Pelicans need to step up their defensive effort to be a top-tier playoff team.
The NBA’s Western Conference has been filled with powerhouse clubs for years. This year is no different. The (5-6) Pelicans ranked 11th in the West, would need one win to tie for the 8th seed if they were in the Eastern Conference. In their last 11 games, the Pelicans have played nine Western Conference teams and have only beaten three of the nine. Playing in this conference is a tough challenge, night in and night out. The Pelicans have to face that challenge and overcome it. With Davis and his supporting cast, the Pelicans can overcome these early struggles and return to their full playoff potential.
After Saturday’s dominating 119-99 win over the Suns, the Pelicans not only extended their streak to two wins, but they also improved to an overall record of (6-6) on the season. Their next milestone will come at the 20-game mark. In their next 8 games, they first meet the #1 ranked team in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors. After that game, and depending on the health of the team, the following seven games should be easy wins, with the exception of the improving Denver Nuggets and the Philadelphia 76ers who recently acquired All-Star Jimmy Butler. If the Pelicans can win six out of the next eight games they can definitely stay afloat and rise above the .500 mark.