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The NBA Championship Formula Part I (Revisited): Where's The D?

As the NBA season passes the 50-game mark, let's review the Pelicans' progress towards building a winner.

The New Orleans Pelicans are 51 games into the regular season. 

An eight-game losing streak has the Pels sitting in eighth place in the Western Conference. 

Seven weeks ago, New Orleans was tied with Memphis atop the standings.

Since that 18-9 start the Pelicans have gone 8-16, and have transitioned from everyone's sleeper pick to make a run to the NBA Finals to the possibly the league's biggest collection of question marks and "what ifs." 

Prior to the start of this season, Pelicans Scoop analyzed the elements that have been common among NBA champions for the past decade.

The NBA Championship Formula Series

Part I: How Close Are The Pelicans?

Part II: Three Is A Magic Number

Part III: (All) Star Power

Part IV: Making Home Court An Advantage

Part V: Stay Healthy

Now, with two-thirds of the season almost behind us, it seems like a good time to see how the Pels measure up to the standards set by those champions.

Be Elite Defensively

It has been a tale of two seasons for the Pelicans defensively. Over its first 27, New Orleans ranked third in the NBA in defensive rating, posting a mark of 108.6, which had the Pels on pace for their best defensive score since the 2005-06 season.

Giannis and Jose

It's been a much different story during the team's last 24 games. The Pelicans have seen a significant drop off on the defensive end and it's been a major contributor to their overall slide.

Since Dec. 15, New Orleans ranks 16th in DRTG (115.3), and has fallen out of the top 10.

During the current 8-game losing streak, its gotten worse, dropping to 117.1. 

Currently, the Pelicans' rating is 111.7, good enough for 11th in the league, though they still have to face Denver and Dallas on the road this week. Both teams rank in the top 10 offensively.

Reminder: Only one NBA champion in the past decade has won their title while finishing outside of the top 10; the 2018 Golden State Warriors.

Injuries have played their part, and so has the schedule, but the Pelicans have not played with the fire or intensity that they did to start the campaign. Rotations have been slower, boxouts less frequent, and the team's transition defense has become a turnstile.

Opponents have taken away New Orleans' advantage in the paint since the Pelicans have no true rim protection by attacking the offensive glass and getting second chance points.

The sample size is now large enough that the decline can no longer be considered a blip, but a real problem.

History shows us that the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans have had 11 seasons with a DRTG of 108 or lower, and they made the playoffs in six of those.

In the 10 seasons that they finished higher than 108, there are just two postseason appearances (2017-18, 2021-22).

Yes, there are 31 games remaining on the schedule. There is time for players to get healthy, coaches to make adjustments, and trades to bolster the roster to be made.

Ultimately, defense is a state of mind. It's an understanding of your opponents strengths and weaknesses, and a commitment to communication with your teammates. 

We've seen little of that from the Pelicans lately.

That time they have isn't indefinite and it only decreases with each passing day. They cannot wish themselves healthier. They cannot make the schedule any more favorable.

What the Pelicans can do is control their effort and their preparation.

Let's see if they can take control, because otherwise, the odds of an extended playoff run 

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