Pelicans Win, Close to Half-Game for Last Playoff Spot


There’s a long list of reasons why the Pelicans need to make the playoffs this season, but the single most important factor is experience.

The Pelicans are one of the youngest teams in the entire league, and their star player just turned 22. The impact of playoff experience on a young team is invaluable, and games like this show just how desperately the Pelicans need it.

They narrowly escaped with a win, as the Oklahoma City Thunder fell short to the Grizzlies. As of tonight the Pelicans sit at 41-34, trailing the Thunder who sit at 42-34, by a half of a game for the 8th and final Playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Thunder have the same amount of losses as the Pelicans, but have played one more game and earned one more win. The Pelicans hold this season’s tiebreaker, so they simply have to match the Thunder’s final record to make the postseason.

As the seasons winds down each game feels more and more intense, and develops more and more of a playoff atmosphere. Tonight the Pelicans got a taste of what that pressure will feel like, and they were lucky to leave the building in one piece.

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The first quarter of this game was a lot like the NBA regular season. The Pelicans were able to execute their plays, play team-focused defense, and work for the shots they wanted. They outscored the Kings 56-42 in the first half due in no small part to their excellent utilization of the three-point line.

April 3, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) dunks the basketball against the Sacramento Kings during the fourth quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Pelicans defeated the Kings 101-95. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Since the All-Star break the Pelicans are 4th in the NBA in three-point percentage, and 2nd in opponent three-point percentage allowed. This burst in long distance domination has come from recently acquired underdog Quincy Pondexter.

Quincy Pondexter and Eric Gordon are shooting a combined 44% from deep since the break, which would make them the third best three-point shooting duo in the league. Tonight Quincy was unconscious from behind the arc, and defended it just as well.

Pondexter was 4/5 in the first quarter alone. Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon benefited from having him in half court settings, but where he really was able to get open was in transition.

Much like Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs, Pondexter excels at getting open on fast breaks, he pushed the ball, found cutters, and spotted up creating space for whoever is flying down the lane.

Conversely, Ryan Anderson brought nothing positive to the Pelicans offense tonight. He was 2/9 from the field and 1/5 from deep. This is because Anderson has started to single-handedly kill the Pelicans ball movement.

When he gets the ball, every other Pelican player subconsciously tunes out because they know he is an offensive black hole.

When Anderson gets the ball he will pump-fake a three, drive to the post, aggressively back down, and either fade into a shot or force a foul.

This brand of calculated offense can be helpful when you need a quick bucket and Anderson’s feeling it, but when he turns ice-cold it decimates chemistry.

In the third quarter the Kings rallied to cut into the Pelicans lead.

Demarcus Cousins worked towards a monstrous triple double and would finish the game with 24 points, 20 rebounds, 13 assists, and 4 blocks. Omri Caspi who was cut by the Pelicans earlier this season also provided a spark, scoring 17 points on 7/9 shooting.

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The 4th quarter was the polar opposite of the first, and mirrored a true playoff atmosphere. In the playoffs defenses are so accustomed to a team’s offensive sets that they render them useless. In these moments teams require players to be able to improvise and force points under harsh conditions.

The Pelicans failed to run a single organized offensive possession for the last three minutes of the game. Demarcus Cousins was physically punishing anyone who penetrated the paint, and the Pelican’s guards couldn’t find open looks.

April 3, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) shoots the basketball against New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik (3) before the game at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Davis was also being ferociously denied the ball, making him a non-factor. So what’s the solution to a neutralized offense? there isn’t one.

The Pelicans didn’t win this game with smart sets or successful executions. They one this game by barreling into each other for offensive rebounds, digging their nails into the opposition and sacrificing their bodies to secure possession of the ball.

Omer Asik fought Demarcus Cousins like he was on his last 10-day contract. Anthony Davis barreled through double teams to set picks, and then hustled back to collect offensive rebounds. Tyreke Evans launched himself into violent interior defenses desperately seeking a whistle.

The Pelicans rose to the occasion and battled more viciously, but this game proved just how little true adversity they have faced.

This is why the Pelicans need to make the playoffs this year, they would be a clear first round exit but the value of being demolished so quickly and getting a taste of that level of competition would prepare them for the year after that.

NOTE: The Pelicans’ remaining schedule is ranked as the 6th most challenging in the entire league by ESPN. Check back in with Big Easy Believer later this evening before tip-off  of the game vs. the Portland Trailblazers, for an explanation of the advantage that will give them as they make a final Playoff push…….

Next: How the Pelicans Became the NBA's Island of Misfit Toys