Derrick Favors (22) and Frank Jackson (15) help up Kenrich Williams during a game vs. the Clippers

Pelicans trying to cap ‘long journey’ with improbable playoff berth

by Jim Eichenhofer

It’s been 18 years since an NBA team began a regular season at 7-23 through 30 games and still made the NBA playoffs. It’s been 35 years since a club withstood a losing streak of 13 games and reached the postseason. When NBA seeding games begin July 30 in Orlando, the New Orleans Pelicans will attempt to achieve their season-long goal of qualifying for the Western Conference quarterfinals, despite having both hardships on their 2019-20 resume.

Given their very poor start to the campaign – capped by a 13-game skid from Nov. 23 through Dec. 17 – it would’ve been easy for the Pelicans to give up on their preseason objective of becoming a playoff team. Instead, as starting center Derrick Favors put it after Tuesday’s fifth straight day of practice in Orlando, New Orleans rallied as a unit. The Pelicans went 21-13 after the 7-23 start, moving within 3.5 games of eighth-place Memphis in the West and earning an invite among 22 NBA teams to Central Florida.

“It (would) just show the type of players we have on this team, the character of guys we have,” Favors said of what it might mean for New Orleans to make the West’s top eight. “They just keep fighting. At the beginning of the year, it started off kind of rough for us. The record and (we had) a couple injuries here and there, but the guys kept fighting, the coaches kept helping us and we put ourselves in a great position to make the playoffs.”

“It’s been a long journey,” reserve guard Frank Jackson said of ’19-20 for the Pelicans. “We’ve really come together and just become more comfortable with each other, as the year has gone by. It’s been super fun to be around this team and this group of guys. Each day I feel like we get closer and closer. It’s just a great time to do what we do best, and that’s hoop.”

While some NBA teams will be missing key players in Orlando for various reasons, including family concerns, health issues and injury precautionary measures, every member of New Orleans’ rotation is available. Currently 10th in the West, the Pelicans (28-36) must finish in at least ninth place and within four games of Memphis (32-33) to extend their season. If they place ninth at the conclusion of seeding games, they must defeat the No. 8 seed twice on the consecutive days of Aug. 15-16. A significant challenge for sure, but perhaps not as daunting as some they’ve already faced, such as being 16 games below .500 just before Christmas. Based on the way New Orleans has performed since then, Pelicans forward Kenrich Williams indicated Tuesday that although a playoff berth remains at the top of the list of team goals, a roster filled with promising young players will not be content to just get in the postseason.

“I think it would be great to make the playoffs, but we don’t want to be satisfied with making the playoffs,” Williams said. “We want to make some noise in the playoffs. No matter who we’re playing, we want to come out and try to win. That’s our goal.”

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