A year ago, the NBA schedule reflected a view of the Pelicans as a franchise on the rise.
The Pelicans will open the season Oct. 26 at the Smoothie King Center against the Denver Nuggets — a far cry from New Orleans’ nationally televised opener last fall at then-defending champion Golden State.
And unlike last season, there’s no showcase Christmas Day game for Anthony Davis and New Orleans. The Pelicans can take the holiday off and get back to work Dec. 26, when they host the Dallas Mavericks.
They’ll play four games on ESPN and one on TNT with no appearances on ABC.
That the Pelicans’ national profile is lower entering next season is no surprise. A year ago, New Orleans was coming off a 45-win season that ended with a first-round playoff loss to the Warriors, and Davis was a leading MVP candidate.
But the injury-plagued Pelicans dropped to 30-52 in Alvin Gentry’s first season as head coach, and the roster underwent an offseason overhaul that makes New Orleans a virtual unknown entering 2016-17.
Last season, the Pelicans were viewed as an attraction. But a league source familiar with the scheduling process said that “the way they crashed and burned” was reflected in the 2016-17 schedule.
Other franchises “have taken their spot,” the source said, pointing to the Timberwolves, with young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, who will play a Christmas Day game at Oklahoma City, and the new-look New York Knicks, who added well-known veterans Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
Still, New Orleans isn’t without high-profile time slots. The Pelicans will host Golden State – with new free-agent acquisition Kevin Durant – on Oct. 28, a game that will be televised on ESPN. That’s the first game of a back-to-back that concludes with a game at San Antonio on Oct. 29.