- San Antonio Spurs’ last 5 games helped them pull within 1 ½ games of the final Western Conference play-in spot
- The New Orleans Pelicans still have 6 more games to play
The mercurial New Orleans Pelicans and forward Zion Williamson could have something to say about the NBA postseason.
The recent 5-game skid from San Antonio (losing all 5 of them in succession) has helped the Pelicans pull within 1 ½ games of the final Western Conference play-in spot and still have six games to go.
In the meantime, the New Orleans Pelicans have shaken off seemingly back-breaking losses to win three out of their last four game, with their past two victories each requiring fourth-quarter comebacks.
After the win against Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night, Williamson said, “It says a lot about our character,” and added, “We’ve been resilient all year long and we’re not going to stop now.”
However, the next challenge for the Pelicans will need them to take their banged-up squad on the road for five games against certain or potential playoff teams.
The trip will bring this Friday at the Eastern Conference leader Philadelphia, where Pelicans second-leading scorer Brandon Ingram will be out of the lineup with a left ankle sprain.
It is also unclear when Ingram will return after that.
On Thursday the Pelicans held a practice session ahead of their departure, however, in addition to Ingram those unable to participate included starting center Steven Adams owing to a toe sprain, who is listed as doubtful against the 76ers.
New Orleans also “had some other guys limited in what they could do in practice, so how much we got accomplished I don’t really know,” coach Stan Van Gundy said.
For the duration, while Ingram is out, the Pelicans will have to rely more on players such as undrafted rookie forward Naji Marshall, who joined the club as a two-way player but has performed well enough since Josh Hart sustained a thumb injury to earn a three-year extension to which he agreed on Thursday.
Additionally, guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who has been out since spraining his ankle in early April, was seen practising without contact on Thursday and was even upgraded to a potential for Friday night’s game.
A lot can rely on the play of guard Lonzo Ball, who scored a career-high 33 points in each of the Pelicans’ last two victories, but shot 3 of 18 in Monday’s loss to Golden State.
Forward Williamson asserted that Ball’s recent high-scoring games, which included points from both the field and foul line, “shows that he’s improving.”
Williamson said, “He finds a way to make things happen. I think that says a lot of about him,” and added, “I’m glad he’s my teammate. The dude just does what he can to help his team win.”
New Orleans’ trip will continue at Charlotte, Memphis, Dallas and Golden State. The Pelicans’ last remaining home game is their season finale against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Even though the upcoming slate looks daunting, Pelicans sound happy to still be in the postseason conversation after a series of recent and sometimes excruciatingly narrow setbacks.
In mid-April, they saw a two-point loss in the overtime in Washington, a five-point loss at home to the injury-riddled Brooklyn Nets on the 20th of April.
There was also a 2-point home loss to the Spurs on the 24th of April, a two-point loss at Denver on the 28th of April and also a lopsided loss on Monday night to the Warriors.
The Pelicans could have pulled just one game behind Golden State for a play-in spot if only they had swept a pair of home games against them this week. Instead, a split left New Orleans three games behind the ninth-place Warriors.
Having said this, Van Gundy was pleased to see his squad refusing to fold when they rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Warriors on Tuesday night.
Van Gundy said, “To me, the biggest positive is our guys’ resilience.
“They keep coming back. And every time people are tempted to sort of write them off and expecting a big letdown, it hasn’t happened. So I think that speaks to the character of this group and I don’t know if there’s anything more important.”
For Van Gundy, his team will have another chance if his players are committed to performing those tasks beyond simply shooting well that can keep them competitive.
Gundy said, “Winning teams take care of the ball. Winning teams get back on defense.
“They take charges. They dive on loose balls. They block people out. Whether the ball goes in or not and whether the other team makes shots or not — there’s things you don’t have control over.
“So, we’re not defining winning basketball in terms of the result or the record, We want to play and do the things — focus on the things — that win games.
“And over the long haul, if you do that enough, it all takes care of itself,” he said.