After a dismal start to the season, the New Orleans Pelicans have an outside chance at the Western Conference Playoffs.
Back in December, the New Orleans Pelicans were mired in a 13-game losing streak that seemed never-ending, Zion Williamson was still injured, Alvin Gentry was on the hot seat and it looked like a lost season. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com gave the Pelicans just a 19 percent chance of making the playoffs, and considering they were 6-22 at the time, that seemed optimistic.
That is when the season turned around for the Pelicans. They started stringing together wins behind All-Star Brandon Ingram and when Zion returned the Pelicans looked like a completely different team. Nearly at full strength coming out of the All-Star break, FiveThirtyEight.com now gives the Pelicans a 57 percent chance of making the playoffs. That’s quite a turnaround.
With 27 games remaining on the schedule, the Pelicans still have time to make a move, but they have no games to waste and will need some help.
The Pelicans (23-32) are currently in the 11th spot in the Western Conference, half a game behind the San Antonio Spurs (23-31) for the 10th position. Ahead of the Spurs are the Portland Trail Blazers (25-31), who are the ninth seed and 1.5 games ahead of the Pelicans. The Memphis Grizzlies (28-26) are currently the team the Pelicans need to catch. The Grizzlies caught fire before the All-Star Break, winning eight of ten games and opening up a 5.5 lead on the Pelicans.
The Spurs only won three of ten games going into the break, so the Pelicans should be able to leapfrog San Antonio unless they can turn things around. The Grizzlies and Trail Blazers both looked strong, though Portland did lose two in a row. These two teams will be the Pelicans’ primary competition and ones fans should watch on the scoreboard. The Phoenix Suns have faltered after a strong start, but are still just a game behind the Pelicans and another team to keep an eye on.
With no realistic chance to catch the seventh seed Dallas Mavericks, the Pelicans have clear targets in Portland and Memphis that they must overcome if they want to sneak into the playoffs.
The Schedule and Match-Ups
The New Orleans Pelicans have one advantage over Memphis going forward and that is strength of schedule. The Pelicans will enjoy the easiest schedule in the Western Conference over the last two months, while the Grizzlies will have the most difficult. With only nine games remaining against winning teams, the Pelicans have a real chance to make a run at the Grizzlies.
Unfortunately, Portland has the second easiest schedule after the break and San Antonio has the sixth easiest, so even if the Pelicans play well, they are going to need some help from the teams they are chasing. The Pelicans have to win some games that they probably shouldn’t and hope that Portland and San Antonio drop a few to sub .500 teams.
The Pelicans will have a chance to influence their own destiny. They are 2-0 against the Grizzlies and have two games remaining in March that will be big. They play the Grizzlies on March 21st, then again on the 24th in two games that will go a long way to determining the outcome of the season. The Pelicans will likely need to sweep the Grizzlies to have a chance.
The Pelicans also enjoy a 2-0 series advantage over Portland and will play them for the final time on Friday. This will be a tough road game, as Portland will be ready, but even if they lose, the Pelicans will hold the tie-breaker against the Trail Blazers.
The Pelicans lost their only game against the Spurs, so still have three games remaining, including the season finale, which could ultimately decide who gets that last spot. The Pelicans are 1-1 against the Suns with one game left in early April.
The New Orleans Pelicans wish they could have the start of the season back, but they are finally at full strength and ready to show that the team who lost 13 in a row no longer exists. It will be a photo finish, as the Pelicans look to charge into the playoffs behind the most exciting young team in the NBA.