Alvin Gentry draws up a play during a huddle

Trending upward when NBA season was halted, Pelicans hope to get opportunity to return to court, complete 2019-20

Gentry: "We just really felt good in the direction we were going.”
by Jim Eichenhofer

New Orleans was playing some of its best basketball of 2019-20 when the 82-game schedule was interrupted in mid-March, highlighted by winning eight of its last 11 road games. The Pelicans had shaken off a 7-23 start – working their way back into the playoff race – and seemed to be trending up in every way, with the NBA’s easiest schedule remaining. Led partly by a group of rapidly-improving young players, a trip to the postseason was a real possibility.

Seven weeks after a March 11 game in Sacramento was postponed, however, perhaps the biggest question now is whether the Pelicans will get the opportunity to achieve that goal.

“Our guys are just eager to get back to playing,” fifth-year head coach Alvin Gentry said Thursday during a conference call with local media. “Our guys were really disappointed because they felt like we were starting to peak and play our best basketball. When you look at the schedule we had remaining, most of the teams we were trying to catch, we were going to be able to play those teams. We really felt good that we had the opportunity to hold our destiny in our own hands, and not have to look at the scoreboard and root for (other teams).”

Instead of controlling their own destiny, the Pelicans are now waiting to see what the short-term future holds, as all North American sports leagues try to determine how to proceed amid the coronavirus pandemic. Various logistical ideas and possibilities have been suggested on how the NBA could resume with regular season or playoff games, but Gentry characterized them Thursday as speculative.

“That’s one of those questions that I don’t think anyone has the answer to right now,” said Gentry, who noted that he is a member of an NBA sub-committee exploring solutions to a potential resumption of basketball. “I don’t know what it’s going to look like when we do get back out playing. That’s something that’s continually being worked on and talked about, starting in the league office. We don’t have any indication of how that will look and what it will be. We’re just hoping that we have that opportunity.”

New Orleans (28-36) is 3.5 games behind eighth-place Memphis (32-33) in the Western Conference standings, but had two head-to-head meetings left vs. the Grizzlies. The Pelicans soundly defeated their Southwest Division rivals twice in January and were looking forward to the opportunity to face them again in matchups that likely would’ve been intense, playoff-like atmospheres.

“I thought we were playing really good basketball,” Gentry said. “The Christmas trip really kind of showed us what we could possibly do, even when we weren’t at full strength. When we got everyone back (after Zion Williamson debuted Jan. 22), we had our rotations that we felt we were going to have at the start of the year.”

Although their overall record was not good enough to place them in the top eight of the West at the time of the shutdown, New Orleans went 21-13 after its 7-23 start, which represented the NBA’s ninth-best winning percentage (61.8) during that span. All eight teams ahead of the Pelicans were locks to reach the playoffs.

“We found our groove, if you want to call that, and our rotations were good,” Gentry said of the Pelicans improving as the season progressed. “Everybody was very accepting of their roles and we were playing very good basketball. I thought that was more of an indication of what we were capable of (than the team’s start to ’19-20).

“(Pelicans players) just really felt good in the direction we were going.”

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