New Orleans Pelicans: 5 most important games after the All-Star Break

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New Orleans Pelicans, Jrue Holiday, Zion Williamson, Western Conference Playoffs

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – FEBRUARY 04: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans and Jrue Holiday #11 react against the Milwaukee Bucks during a game at the Smoothie King Center on February 04, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Heading into the final stretch of the season, the New Orleans Pelicans have a handful of defining games on their schedule to help make a statement.

If the New Orleans Pelicans were going to give themselves a tagline for their run at the end of the season, it might be, “we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

Standing 5 games out of the eighth seed after picking up a half-game on the Memphis Grizzlies last night (thanks to their loss to the Sacramento Kings), the Pelicans are 23-32 and well within striking distance of the playoffs as long as things go in their favor.

Of course, some of “things going in their favor” will have to come from within, as a favorable schedule gives the team a chance to fulfill their own playoff destiny.

After having the toughest strength of schedule in the league until the All-Star break, the Pelicans now own the easiest schedule in the league over their final 27 games. Meanwhile, Memphis owns the hardest remaining schedule.

One thing that could yield the biggest difference for the New Orleans Pelicans over the other teams chasing the last seed in the playoffs is Zion Williamson.

Returning to their lineup on Jan. 22, the 19-year-old has provided pretty incredible play for the Pelicans since returning from his preseason knee injury.

It’ll be important to get the ball rolling with solid play out of the gate after the break, as the team opens up their second half on the road against the Portland Trail Blazers, who are without Damian Lillard tonight.

The Pelicans own a 3-0 record against the Blazers and knocked them off at the Smoothie King Center in a great, 138-117 victory in their second-to-last before the break. Portland is currently the ninth-seed with a 25-31 record, standing 3.5 games behind Memphis.

Regardless of tonight’s outcome, the Pelicans need to keep making up ground in the West and their best chance to do that is to beat some quality opponents down the stretch.

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