Key to Pelicans Playoff Push: Face Contenders


ESPN ranks the Pelican’s remaining schedule as the 6th most grueling in the entire league. This ranking is based on an algorithm which organizes the schedules in the most qualitatively and logical way possible.

What this algorithm doesn’t account for is the fact that the New Orleans Pelicans are the most illogical team in the NBA.

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Of their remaining schedule, 83% of their opponents have records above .500; and only two are not in the playoffs. This seems like a disadvantage, but there’s three main reasons this will serve to help them on their quest for the NBA postseason.

1. Everyone Loves an Underdog

The Pelicans have developed a reputation for decimating contenders one night, and then falling short against sub-20 win lottery teams another.

They beat Houston on January 2nd, then lost to Charlotte on the 7th. They then beat the Grizzlies on the 9th, and lost to the 76ers and the Knicks the following week.

For whatever mystical reason, the Pelicans seem to rise or stoop to whatever level their opponent plays at. The rule isn’t constant, but for the most part the Pelicans make a fantastic underdog.

If they continue to match the level of NBA contenders they will blast through the rest of the season and take advantage of complacent teams. Jrue Holiday could also return soon, which would work wonders for the Pelicans perimeter defense, which is already allowing the 2nd lowest three-point percentage in the league since the All-Star break.

Jan 5, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) is guarded by New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Wizards defeated the Pelicans 92-85. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

This Pelicans team is the same as the one we’ve seen, except that Quincy Pondexter has emerged as a legitimate starter and Norris Cole has replaced Austin Rivers. There’s no reason they can’t rise to the occasion.

2. Secure Contenders have Stopped Caring About the Regular Season

For most contenders the rest of this season is just a formality. The Warriors, Rockets, Grizzlies, Clippers and Spurs have zero risk of missing the playoffs, so they will focus on resting players and getting healthy for the first round.

The Warriors, Rockets, Spurs and arguably the Clippers are the only true remaining western contenders, so outside of playing each other they aren’t concerned with first round match-ups.

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The Grizzlies might put up a fight but the Pelicans have been especially effective against them throughout the regular season.

The Pelicans final game of the season is against the San Antonio Spurs, who very well might rest their ten best players and let Aron Baynes get his time to shine.

Last season they had such little regard for their final game that the Los Angeles Lakers beat them by double digits.

Apr 16, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Nick Young (0) shoots the ball over San Antonio Spurs guard Danny Green (4) during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans hold the season tiebreaker with the Oklahoma City Thunder, so they just need to tie their record to advance into the postseason. Prying on a few disinterested contenders could very well be their greatest advantage as the season comes to a close.

3. Nobody wants OKC in the First or Second Round.

The Golden State Warriors will have a very important decision to make on April 7th. They have officially clinched home court advantage throughout the entire playoffs, so winning past this point offers no advantages.

On the 7th they play the Pelicans and if they decide to “rest” their core players and lose that game, they very well might give the Pelicans the win which puts them over the Thunder.

The reason the Warriors would be temped to do this is that the Pelicans are a much less threatening first round matchup.

The Pelicans would benefit immensely from gaining playoff experience, since as of now the core players of this team have never tasted a true playoff atmosphere.

The Thunder however have made the NBA finals. Though Kevin Durant is out for the season, the idea of Russell Westbrook hurling himself into Steph Curry for 44 minutes a game can’t sit well with Steve Kerr.

January 5, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) dribbles the basketball against Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30, left) during the third quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Thunder 117-91. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

For these reasons it’s more than likely that the Pelicans breeze through to the post-season despite their strenuous schedule. If they were facing a collection of 9-10 seeds instead they would be at a disadvantage since those teams give 110% each night and would be fighting desperately for the same thing as New Orleans.

Being wildly inconstant is the only thing the Pelicans have consistently done this season. If they can rally and harness their unpredictable potential, then they will demolish what is supposed be the “6th hardest schedule in the league.”

To quote Dell Demps, “The ceiling just keeps getting higher.”

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