In a below-sea-level city where potholes have been known to swallow mid-size sedans, the New Orleans Pelicans have been cratering when they should be cruising.
Two weeks ago, the Pelicans were soaring with the fourth-best record in the Western Conference, but after losing four consecutive games, including a 109-104 home setback to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, the Pelicans (43-34) are in the eighth and final playoff position with five games left.
That precarious seeding places additional pressure on Wednesday night's matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies (21-56), who are clearly playing the spoiler role against a team that has had trouble playing its best basketball at home. The four-game losing streak is the longest of the year for New Orleans.
"Obviously with not that many games left, and people chasing you and you chasing people, it becomes necessary for us to win games," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said.
The Pelicans are among seven teams battling for the last five playoff spots in the West. Houston, Golden State and Portland are set in the first three positions, but it's wide open after that.
"We're in the playoffs right now," Anthony Davis said. "If we keep winning, we'll be in. It's not one of those things where we're in ninth or 10th and we've got to pray someone loses."
The Pelicans are one game ahead of the No. 9 Denver Nuggets (42-35). After Wednesday's game against Memphis, the Pelicans close out the season on the road against Phoenix, Golden State and the L.A. Clippers and then host San Antonio in the regular-season finale.
"I'm just trying to win," Davis said. "That's really it."
"For the last two months, it's been like this," guard Jrue Holiday said.
The playoff race is so close that it changes daily, but Gentry said the Pelicans simply have to focus on getting a win -- any win.
"To me, I think we've got to embrace where we are," Gentry said. "Embrace the situation. We're playing for a reason."
Davis will be the key for the Pelicans if they are to make a playoff push. He has looked anything but superhuman since spraining his right ankle last week in a home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. He was limited to 16 points in a road loss to Cleveland and finished with a quiet 25 points in the loss to Oklahoma City on Sunday.
The good news is that he will be playing the Grizzlies on two days' rest.
If the Pelicans can take care of business against the Grizzlies, they will travel to Phoenix, which holds the worst record in the NBA at 19-59.
The Grizzlies have lost six of their last eight games. One of the bright spots has been the play of rookie swingman Dillon Brooks, the 45th player taken in the 2017 NBA draft who has played in every game this season.
"That's my goal: to play in every one of them," Brooks said. "That's the other goal I had since coming back from the (mid-February) All-Star break. And I wanted to just learn all I can about what it takes to take care of my body -- make it feel good when I go into games, and also take care of it after games. You don't see a lot of rookies, or players overall, play all 82. So, I'm just trying to do something different."
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