No one gave the 8th seed New Orleans Pelicans much of a chance against the Golden State Warriors, but despite being swept they showed the ability to keep up with top seed in every game of the short series, especially with Anthony Davis on board.
The Pelicans showed off a lot of their positive attributes in the series; however, Game 3 showed that they weren’t quite ready for the spotlight yet. Up by as much as 20 points in the 4th quarter, the Pels blew the led to the fired-up Warriors squad, losing in overtime. The NBA later apologized for missing two fouls committed by the Warriors with under a minute left; but the mental damage was done, and the Pels really had no chance in Game 4 after such a devastating loss two nights before.
Don’t let the early playoff exit fool you, fans—the Pelicans had a fantastic 2014-2015 NBA season all things considered. A 45-37 record and a tie-breaker over the Oklahoma City Thunder put the Pels in the playoffs with the 8th seed in the tough Western Conference. It wasn’t an easy journey by any means with injuries and general inexperience plaguing the team all throughout the season yet again, but the Pelicans have shown tremendous potential for the future.
Tyreke Evans is playing some of the best basketball of his career, Jrue Holiday has stepped up as a team leader when he’s healthy, Quincy Pondexter has emerged as a sharp-shooter, and Eric Gordon didn’t completely anger fans this year by claiming to be injured and collecting a fat check like in years past. In fact, Gordon was a key part of this team’s long-range threat, finishing the season with 44.8 percent from beyond the arc—the second-best in the NBA.
Then, of course, there’s Anthony Davis. The 22-year-old superstar forward made the leap this season from good All-Star to top-three elite NBA player. With 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game to go along with a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 30.89, Davis did it all for the Pelicans this season. If this team is going to make its first playoff run without Chris Paul on the roster, Davis will need to be the man leading the charge; and he is definitely happy with the direction in which the team is moving right now:
“We improved from last season in different categories,” said Davis. “[Our progress is] right on time. It’s all a learning experience. We’re learning as a unit, and individually. I think the pace we’re on right now is good. We improved each year, I improved each year. People counted us out for the playoffs, but we never doubted for one second that we couldn’t get in. We gave the Warriors a tough fight. Guys played well. That’s all you can ask for.”
The rest of the team shares in Davis’s optimism looking forward to next season. They understand that they had a tough break with multiple injuries and such this season; and they can do much better in the coming years with a healthy slate of players.
“You look at our record, if we had this [complete healthy] team through the whole year, we could’ve at least had five more wins,” said Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson. “We could’ve possibly had homecourt advantage [in the first round]. That’s kind of exciting to think about.
It’s hard to argue with him there. A full season with Pondexter, Dante Cunningham, and Norris Cole as well as a healthy Davis and Holiday could certainly mean a better playoff ranking in 2016.
Really, with head coach Monty Williams and Anthony Davis together, this team will only continue to get better.