Eventually, we’ll get accustomed to the sound of the New Orleans Pelicans name. But for now, the Pelicans sound like a D-League team. And Monday night in the Big Easy, the Pelicans looked like a minor-league squad.
Melvin Ely, who hadn’t played in the NBA in 1,097 days, flew in from Las Vegas on Sunday, signed a contract with the Pelicans and played 10 minutes against the Thunder.
James Southerland, a rookie from Syracuse, had played all of three NBA games in his life. Less than 23 minutes. He played 7:14 against OKC.
Jeff Withey, a rookie from Kansas averaging less than 12 minutes a game, played 32:36 against the Thunder.
Journeyman Luke Babbitt, signed as a free agent in February, played 25:44.
Second-year pro Darius Miller, with seven starts to his name, played 36:52.
Seven-foot-three center Alexis Ajinca, who spent the previous two years in Europe after sparse playing time with Charlotte, Dallas and Toronto, played 19:10.
The Pelicans did trot out some guys you’ve heard of. Al-Farouq Aminu, the eighth pick in the 2010, but mostly an NBA bust, played 20:42. Anthony Morrow, a 3-point specialist, played 31:33. Austin Rivers, the 10th pick in the 2012 draft but who might join Aminu as a bust, played 14:08 before getting ejected.
Which left Tyreke Evans to play 42:12. It was as if Evans was on injury rehab to the D-League.
But the Pelicans didn’t play like a D-League team. That scrapped-together team beat the Thunder 101-89 Monday night, and no one cares that Russell Westbrook sat out and Reggie Jackson should have sat out.
The Pelicans played without Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holliday, Ryan Anderson, Jason Smith and Brian Roberts.
This was a true junior varsity team. And the New Orleans JV beat the Thunder varsity.
Every NBA sage says it matters how well you’re playing going into the playoffs. OK. So what does this debacle in New Orleans mean for the Thunder?
It means OKC has lost four of its last seven games. Mixed in the middle was that great victory over the Clippers, so it’s not like the Thunder is destitute of quality play in recent weeks. And the Thunder’s trouble is nothing compared to what’s going on in Indiana and Miami.
But if NBA convention is correct, if you need to be playing well going into the postseason to play well in the postseason, is that trouble for OKC?
Let’s look at recent history.
In 2013, the Thunder was playing very well down the stretch. The Boomers won 10 of their last 13, and that’s counting a loss to Milwaukee in which Scotty Brooks emptied his bench in the season finale. The playoffs were marred by Russell Westbrook’s injury, so you can’t glean too much from that.
In 2012, the Thunder went 7-7 in its last 14 games, then roared through the Western Conference and reached the NBA Finals.
In 2011, the Thunder went 10-3 in its last 13 games, counting a don’t-care loss to Milwaukee in the season finale. Then the Thunder won two straight playoff series to reach the West finals against Dallas.
In 2010, the Thunder went 2-4 in its final six games and 6-5 in its final 11 games. Then OKC played the mighty Lakers tough in a six-game first-round series.
So playing well hasn’t been a requirement for playoff success, at least as far as the Thunder is concerned.
How about the West’s elite?
The Spurs won the West in 2013. They staggered into the playoffs, going 3-7 in their final 10 games. Then they zipped to the NBA Finals losing just two games total in three series.
The Mavericks won the West in 2011. They won their final four games of the regular season. But Dallas lost its four games before that stretch. And won its five games before that. And lost five of eight before that. Those Mavs were a streaky team.
The Lakers won the West in 2010. They went 4-7 in their final 11 games of the regular season, including 3-6 in their final nine.
So none of the previous four West champions have played well in April going into the playoffs.
That’s good news for the Thunder. Here’s even better news. No D-League team awaits in the postseason.