Pelicans Playoffs: Mapping the easiest path to the NBA title

Apr 14, 2024; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) dribbles
Apr 14, 2024; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) dribbles / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans have done themselves no favors. In March, New Orleans was fighting for a top four seed in the Western Conference and home court advantage in the first round. A four game losing streak to Boston, Phoenix, Orlando, and San Antonio as the calendar flipped from March to April doomed the Pels to the same fate they've suffered the past two seasons. A Play-In Tournament berth.

Unlike the last two seasons, New Orleans will kick off the Play-In Tournament with a home game as the seven seed. Losing the first game won't doom New Orleans like it would have in years past, they'll have a second home game as a mulligan if they fall to the Lakers on Tuesday night.

Making it out of the Western Conference gauntlet will be a near impossible task no matter the path. New Orleans' road to a title will be paved with giants of the current NBA game. Let's break down the Pelicans easiest potential path to a title.

Easiest path to the NBA Championship

Play-In Round One: Lose to the Lakers

We're talking easiest path, right? The winner of Tuesday night's play-in game will hit the road to the Mile High City to take on the defending champion Denver Nuggets in the first round. An unenviable task. Am I saying New Orleans should throw this matchup to set up a win-or-go-home game against Golden State or Sacramento? Absolutely not. However, the easiest path to a title can't run through Denver in round one.

Play-In Round Two: Defeat the Kings

The Kings present a much easier matchup for the Pelicans than the Warriors. Unfortunately, both squads are battle tested, but Steph Curry still strikes fear into opposing teams like few others do. New Orleans would be big favorites against Sacramento and a win would slot them into the eight and final playoff spot in the West.

Round One: Defeat the Thunder

Oklahoma City has given New Orleans fits this season. The Thunder are riding back-to-back wins against the Pelicans, and would for sure be favored in a series. However, the Thunder lack the experience of other upper-echelon West teams and though the Pels are young, CJ McCollum, Jonas Valnciunas, and Brandon Ingram would be the old heads on the floor against the Thunder. A six game series victory is far from unattainable for New Orleans.

Round Two: Defeat the Suns

Phoenix edged out New Orleans on the last day of the season for the six seed in the West. The experience level for the Suns would be night and day compared to the Thunder, but a series win against Phoenix would be just as likely. The Suns have elite talent at the top of their roster, but it thins out quickly behind Booker, Beal, and Durant. The Pels could use their depth to run the Suns ragged in a long, hard-fought, seven game series.

Round Three: Defeat the Mavericks

This matchup would be assuming a Dallas upset of Denver in round two, but it's not crazy! Luka Donicic is currently playing some of the best basketball of anyone on the planet, and he's due for another deep playoff run.

Unfortunately for him, it ends in the Conference Finals in this scenario. Zion Williamson would be too much for a weak Dallas interior defense and New Orleans would make their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.

NBA Finals: Defeat the New York Knicks

Boston is as big of a favorite in the East as we've seen in a long time. They outclassed the rest of the conference by fourteen games. In this dreamland scenario, they'd get upset somewhere along the way, allowing the New York Knicks to make their first Finals appearance since 1999.

This would be the first time since the Play-In tournament that the Pelicans would be taking on a team they're better than. New York finished with one more win than New Orleans playing a significantly easier schedule in the Eastern Conference. New Orleans would have to win multiple games in the Mecca, but I'd see them hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy in six games against the Knicks, winning it at home with Zion Williamson delievering on the promise his talent made as the number one overall pick in 2019.