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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The New Orleans Pelicans aren’t done yet.
The Pelicans have been the league’s most disappointing team this season. New coach Alvin Gentry and his staff were supposed to bring improvement on both offense (where Gentry had a great reputation) and defense (where New Orleans had ranked in the bottom 10 each of the last three seasons).
But the Pelicans have regressed on both ends of the floor this season. They’ve been 2.9 points per 100 possessions worse on offense and 3.2 points per 100 possessions worse on defense than they were last season. The Milwaukee Bucks have suffered a bigger drop-off in NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions), but their regression has been entirely on defense.
New Orleans has sat in 14th place in the Western Conference for most of the season. And if this were last season (or any of the five seasons before that), we’d be writing the Pelicans off at this point.
But through the first two months of the season, only six West teams are above .500 and the bottom half of the playoff picture is wide open. So, despite their 10-22 record, the Pelicans are just 4 1/2 games out of eighth place.
And January could be the time for New Orleans to make its move. The Pelicans have played the league’s toughest schedule through Dec. 31, but are getting some relief this month. They have the league’s easiest schedule in January, with nine of their 14 games at home and seven of the 14 against teams playing the second night of a back-to-back.
A few more Western Conference notes from the January schedule …
- The Spurs and Warriors meet for the first time on Jan. 25 and neither team will be on the second night of a back-to-back. Cancel all plans.
- The Mavs play five games in seven days from Jan. 12-18, with four of those games against top-five defenses.
- The Nuggets‘ longest homestand of the season is eight games long, from Jan. 10-25. All eight opponents are currently over .500.
- The Warriors play five games in seven nights from Jan. 8-14. And the matchup against the Spurs ends a stretch where they play five straight games against top-10 defenses.
- The Rockets have two stretches of five games in seven days, one from Jan. 12-18 and another from Jan. 24-30.
- The Clippers traveled to the East coast twice in December and will be back in late January, with a five-game-in-seven-nights trip where four of the five opponents are at least four games over .500.
- The Grizzlies don’t play a single back-to-back this month. They also have the fewest games (in the entire league) against top-10 offenses (two – tied with Boston) and the fewest games against top-10 defenses (two tied with three other teams).
- The Suns play only 14 games, but have a stretch where they play six of seven games (from Jan. 6-21) against top-10 defenses.
- On Jan. 20, the Blazers begin a stretch where they play 12 of 14 games at home.
- The Kings play five games in seven nights from Jan. 20-26.
- The Jazz play five games in seven nights from Jan. 4-10.
Like the Pelicans, the Brooklyn Nets sit in 14th place and have played the toughest schedule in the conference. Unlike the Pelicans, the Nets are going to have to wait until February before their schedule eases up a bit.
No team has more games in January against opponents that are currently over .500. No team has more January games against top-10 offenses and only one team (Washington) has more January games against top-10 defenses. The Nets have a couple of quality wins over the last couple of weeks, but haven’t won many games they’re supposed to win and probably won’t be making any headway in the standings anytime soon.
More Eastern Conference notes…
- The Home/Road numbers don’t add up for the Magic and Raptors, because they play in London on Jan. 14, which technically counts as a home game for Orlando.
- The Hawks have a seven-day stretch from Jan. 15-21 where they play five games and go from Milwaukee to Atlanta to Portland to Sacramento.
- The Celtics play six games in nine days, including a four-in-five stretch, from Jan. 10-23.
- The Bulls have a four-games-in-five-nights stretch from Jan. 11-15.
- The Cavs‘ longest road trip of the season is a six-game excursion from Jan. 6-15, but only two of the six opponents (Dallas and San Antonio) have winning records.
- Come Jan. 8, the Heat will start paying for having such a home-heavy schedule thus far. Between Jan. 8 and Feb. 5, they’ll play 14 of their 16 games on the road.
- The Bucks have a four-games-in-five nights stretch, two home-road back-to-backs, from Jan. 12-16. Between Dec. 26 and Feb. 9, they’re not home for more than one game at a time.
- It’s a big month for the Magic, with 13 of their 14 games within the conference. Seven of those 13 are against the other teams currently seeded 2-10.
- Like the Magic, the Raptors play 13 of their 14 games within the Eastern Conference. But that includes six games against the five East teams that are under .500.
- The Wizards play a league-high nine games against top-10 defenses, plus two more against the 11th-ranked Magic defense. Their first six games of 2016 are against the top 11 teams in DefRtg.