As it stands, the Pelicans are currently gridlocked in a three-way tie with the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder for the tenth seed, which is noteworthy because that is the lowest seed you can be to still be eligible for the NBA Play-In Tournament.
But given the jam-packed nature of the Western Conference (just 5.5 games separate seeds four through 13), there is not only an opportunity for survival, but a chance for ascension.
The Pelicans are only 2.5 games behind the fifth-seeded Mavericks, who, if the season ended today, would be guaranteed a playoff seed and would not have to battle for one in the play-in tournament.
If the Pelicans win, they will trim the Mavericks’ standings advantage from 2.5 games down to a mere game and a half. And in the process, they would also tie the season series at 2-2, which could prove to be helpful down the road if we get into a tiebreaker situation.
With so much at stake, New Orleans is going to need all the help they can get, and that’s why the return of Josh Richardson from his two-game absence due to personal reasons was welcome news for the organization.
Richardson, who arrived in New Orleans after a deadline deal with San Antonio, has factored in heavily into the Pelicans’ rotation since his acquisition. So far, he’s appeared in six games (starting his last four), and in those contests he’s posted averages of 9.7 PPG/2.3 RPG/2.3 APG with a True Shooting efficiency of 61.3% (3.3 percentage points better than the league average) in 27 minutes of play.
Having Richardson’s leadership and defense back in the mix will be huge for the Pelicans as they try to corral Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving, and the Mavericks’ sixth-ranked offense. The veteran, who is averaging 2.7 steals per game since joining the team, will also play a large part in helping the Pelicans’ defense return to their turnover-forcing ways.
The one downside of Richardson’s return (in so much that there is one) is that it will likely signal a decrease in minutes for rookie Dyson Daniels, who continued to show promising flashes he’s demonstrated all season in Richardson’s absence.
Also, for those wondering, as the tweet above stated, the rest of the Pelicans’ injury report remains the same. That means that Zion Williamson (hamstring), Larry Nance Jr. (ankle), Jose Alvarado (tibia), and E.J. Liddell (knee) will all continue to be out for the Pelicans.