12 Years Ago, the New Orleans Pelicans Were on their Way to the Western Finals

NEW ORLEANS - MAY 5: David West #30, Tyson Chandler #6 and Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - MAY 5: David West #30, Tyson Chandler #6 and Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images) /

On this day, the New Orleans Pelicans (then the Hornets) took a decisive 2-0 lead over the Spurs and it looked like they were headed to the Western Conference Finals.

Things were a lot different for the New Orleans Pelicans on this day in May 2008. Instead of trying to claw their way into the playoffs, the Pelicans (then Hornets) were on the verge of making team history.

Chris Paul and the Hornets got a two seed behind a 56-26 record that still stands as the best in franchise history. Paul was brilliant that season, averaging 21.1 points, 11.6 assists, four rebounds and 2.7 steals a game.

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In terms of both team and individual success, this was the best season the New Orleans Pelicans had ever had and it looked like it was about to get better.

The Pelicans were up against the San Antonio Spurs, who were fresh off two recent championships and were favored even though they had a worse record.

The 2007-8 New Orleans Pelicans were one of those rare teams that is greater than the sum of its parts.

They had Paul and franchise great David West to go with sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic, but not much else.

Tyson Chandler wasn’t quite the lob catching block machine he would later become and the bench was filled out with guys like Bonzi Wells, Jannero Pargo, Julian Wright and Hilton Armstrong, not exactly a top-tier second unit.

This shows how important the draft is. Had the New Orleans Pelicans drafted better during the Paul era they could have built a consistent winner, but Paul was only able to overcome his supporting cast once in his time in New Orleans, a monumental failure of team building.

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The New Orleans Pelicans (Hornets) won game one behind 30 points from West and 13 assists from Paul, a 101-82 blowout in which the Spurs scored just 33 points in the entire second half.

May 5th, 2008 brought game two and more of the same. Paul was absolutely brilliant, pouring in 30 points and 12 assists to lead the Pelicans to a 102-84 win.

It looked as though the Pelicans (Hornets) were on their way to a sweep. They were unstoppable and had the favored Spurs rattled.  Until they didn’t.

The Spurs won the next two at home to tie the series at 2-2 before the New Orleans Pelicans won again at home to put themselves on the brink of the Western Conference Finals.

The Spurs took care of business at home in Game 6, so all the New Orleans Pelicans had to do was hold home court to get to the Western Conference Finals to take on the Lakers.

Easy right?

Wrong. The Spurs played lockdown defense all game, holding the Pelicans to just 82 total points, including 14 in a decisive 3rd quarter.

The New Orleans Pelicans had lost a very winnable series, but the bright side was that the Pelicans had made an important step that they could build on the next season, when they were destined for the Finals.

But the New Orleans Pelicans regressed the next season, making the playoffs but getting beaten by the Nuggets in the first round.

What looked to be the beginning of a consistent winner was actually the end, which is why teams can’t take playoff appearances for granted.

It’s never a given that the team will improve, nor that they will make it back to the playoffs, so you have to take care of business when you get the opportunity.

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The New Orleans Pelicans were one home game away from a trip to the Western Conference Finals, but lost and haven’t been that close since.

On this day in May, the Pelicans had their fate in their own hands and it looked like the team was on the verge of greatness.

As May 5th rolls around 12 years later the landscape of the NBA is much different but the New Orleans Pelicans are still trying to get to the team’s first Western Conference Final and to take that last step to become a champion.

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