The New Orleans Pelicans are still within striking distance in the Western Conference playoff race even though they are 1-3 in their last four games following Wednesday's 100-95 loss to the Houston Rockets.
Just don't tell that to coach Alvin Gentry.
Justin Verrier of ESPN.com noted Gentry was "visibly angry" after the game and passed along his comments regarding New Orleans' postseason aspirations following his team's latest defeat:
We come out here after every game and we talk about, 'Well, you know, we're still in the playoff race.' No, we're not. We're not. What we are is, we're a team that -- when we have an opportunity to do something, we didn't get it done. So that is the bottom line.
We're up six points, we turn the ball over three straight times. You can't do that and win on the road. It's that simple.
Verrier broke down the Pelicans' playoff chances, and it was clear why Gentry feels his team is a long shot at best to be playing meaningful basketball at the end of the schedule. They are six games behind the same Rockets squad that beat them Wednesday for the eighth and final spot in the West, and the Utah Jazz, Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets are all ahead of them as well.
What's more, Verrier pointed out New Orleans came into Wednesday's contest with just a 0.9 percent chance of reaching the postseason, "according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index."
Cue the cliche "so you're saying there's a chance" line.
New Orleans missed a golden opportunity Wednesday to pick up ground on the Rockets team it is chasing by committing 22 turnovers in the loss. Thanks to that sloppiness, it couldn't take advantage of Houston's abysmal three-point shooting. The Rockets finished 3-of-34 from deep, which Verrier pointed out was "the worst percentage (8.8) ever by a team with more than 30 attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information."
The Pelicans also wasted Norris Cole's 21 points and eight assists.
Part of the problem was superstar Anthony Davis only scored 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds, which was a far cry from his averages of 24.1 points and 10.2 boards a night coming into Wednesday's game.
Gentry's frustration is understandable since New Orleans made the playoffs last year behind Davis as a transcendent young talent. The Pelicans were swept by the eventual champion Golden State Warriors in the first round, but they did force overtime in Game 3 and only lost by seven, 10 and 11 points in the other three contests.
There was reason for optimism in New Orleans with many of the core pieces, including Davis, returning for a potential run in 2015-16.
However, injuries have prevented this team from fully competing with the Western Conference's best this season. Eric Gordon is back in the lineup but missed significant time with a broken right finger, while Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter were lost for the season with setbacks. What's more, Omer Asik is sidelined with an ankle injury.
It would be hard for any team in the league to live up to expectations with so many physical setbacks.
Perhaps the coach's words will light the proverbial fire underneath his team—although the upcoming schedule isn't promising:
|March 3||San Antonio Spurs|
|March 5||Utah Jazz|
|March 7||Sacramento Kings|
|March 9||at Charlotte Hornets|
|March 11||at Memphis Grizzlies|
|March 12||at Milwaukee Bucks|
|March 14||at Golden State Warriors|
|March 16||at Sacramento Kings|
|March 18||Portland Trail Blazers|
|March 20||Los Angeles Clippers|
The Pelicans play the dominant San Antonio Spurs, the unstoppable Warriors and one of the league's most talented squads in the Los Angeles Clippers during that stretch. They also face a red-hot Portland Trail Blazers team that is 14-3 in its last 17 games and a Memphis Grizzlies squad that is well on its way to its sixth consecutive playoff appearance.
The one silver lining in that slate is head-to-head games against teams New Orleans is chasing in Utah and Sacramento, but it will need to play much better than it did Wednesday to make up any ground.