Tyreke Evans' Huge Game Should Have the Pelicans Thinking About the Playoffs

Tyreke Evans destroyed the Nets on Thursday night and he could be what the Pelicans need to reach the Western Conference Playoffs.

Tyreke Evans dropped a season-high 29 points in 28 minutes against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night. It was easily his best performance of the year after playing no more than 21 minutes in his first nine games. While doing this against one of the league's worst teams isn't saying a whole lot, especially with Anthony Davis sitting out, Evans' statistical performance was still impressive.

According to numberFire Live, Evans had an offensive rating (ORtg) of 147.3. In a season where big stat lines and triple-doubles are becoming more common, this performance was nice to see from a guy coming off his third knee surgery in nine months.

Jan. 12 vs. Nets Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks eFG% TS% Ortg
Tyreke Evans 29 4 3 4 1 73.3% 80.2% 147.3

Thursday's win improved them to 16-24, which has them sitting 10th in the Western Conference. It's an uphill climb, but the New Orleans Pelicans are only 1.5 games behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the final playoff spot.

Can the Pelicans Make the Playoffs?

New Orleans has been playing some pretty good basketball lately, which is good since they had a rough start to the year. Their win over the Nets now marks six victories in the past nine games, putting them on the fringes of the playoff race. This run has almost perfectly coincided with Evans' return, as well.

He's been solid in limited minutes since being activated, with a 37.0% assist rate and an adoption of a layups and three-pointers only strategy being the most impressive aspects of his game. In 11 contests, nearly 80% of his shots have come from either beyond the arc or within three feet. His three-point attempt rate is at a career high (39.2%) to go with a serviceable 34.3% success rate.

The battle for the last seed in the West is shaping up to be a fight, but the Pelicans are going to be right in the thick of things with Evans playing well.

While the trio of Evans, Davis and Jrue Holiday will have a lot to do with whether or not the Pelicans eventually clinch a playoff spot, team defense is what will actually get them there -- which is their best attribute.

Defense Is Ruling in New Orleans

Another interesting stat to come from the Nets game on Thursday was New Orleans' shutdown defense in the fourth quarter.

Brooklyn was leading 79-72 once the third quarter was complete, and according to numberFire Live, the Nets had a 74.3% chance of winning at that time. But then the fourth quarter happened, which included the Pelicans holding the Nets to just 16 points and completely taking control of the contest.

Defense has recently become the team's calling card -- they've given up only 97.5 points over their last nine games and have crept all the way up to seventh in defensive rating (105.8 points allowed per 100 possessions).

After Thursday's game, the Pelicans are now one of only seven teams holding opponents to an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) below 50%. They've also been stingy in other areas, ranking fifth in limiting free throws per field goal attempt to opponents (.172).

It obviously starts with Davis. The potential MVP candidate -- if New Orleans can keep digging themselves out of that early-season hole -- has been stellar on the defensive end. He's holding players he exclusively defends to 41.2% shooting from the field, including 30.1% from deep and 48.8% within 10 feet.

Holiday has also been fantastic on defense, holding opposing players to just 35.3% shooting, and that dips to 28.6% from beyond the arc.

Head coach Alvin Gentry has been on the hot seat for some time, but New Orleans' transformation on defense has almost certainly saved his job for now. Just look at the Pels' improvements this year compared to 2015-16.

Year DRtg Opp. eFG% TOV% DRB% FT/FGA
2016-17 105.8 (7th) 49.9% (7th) 12.0% (24th) 77.5% (8th) .172 (5th)
2015-16 109.5 (27th) 52.3% (27th) 12.7% (19th) 78.8 (4th) .225 (26th)

The Pelicans are still a work and progress and may not be anymore than a first-round playoff team before getting eliminated, but they have built a dangerous core that is getting it done on both ends with Evans back in the mix.