The one potential playoff matchup that should terrify Pelicans fans

Mar 10, 2024; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) reacts after
Mar 10, 2024; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) reacts after / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans are firmly entrenched in the Western Conference playoffs.

The team's four-game win streak over middling Eastern Conference teams isn't that impressive on paper, but they stamped themselves as contenders during this stretch. Indiana, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Atlanta isn't the toughest gauntlet in the NBA by any means, but going out and dominating inferior opponents is a sure sign of a championship-level team. New Orleans did just that.

The Pelicans have leapt into the top five in season-long net rating (fourth overall) and over their last ten games, the Pelicans are the second best team in the Association, only behind the juggernaut Boston Celtics.

The resurgence of Trey Murphy, the immeasurable growth of Herb Jones, and the steady play of the starting lineup give the Pelicans a top six that can run with any team in the league.

Even though the team has all of the potential in the world to make a deep run into May/June, there is one scenario staring the Pelicans in the face that should terrify New Orleans.

As it stands, New Orleans sits in fifth in the Western Conference. Ahead of them, in order, are the Thunder, Nuggets, Timberwolves, and Clippers. Six games separate the top five in the west, and the jockeying for position has really just begun.

Of the aforementioned teams, New Orleans has the toughest schedule left. The Phoenix Suns sit a game and a half behind the Pelicans ready to swap spots and drop New Orleans to the six seed. In that likely scenario, New Orleans would potentially face an opponent that would likely knock them out before their playoff run has a chance to even begin.

The Denver Nuggets are the best team in the Western Conference. Nikola Jokic is the best basketball player in the world, and his supporting cast is playing at as high of a level as ever. The Nuggets are currently the number two seed, but Minnesota is hot on their heels, only a game behind.

In the scenario that the Pelicans slip to the six seed and the Nuggets slip to the three seed, New Orleans is in deep trouble. In his last ten games against the Pelicans, Nikola Jokic averages a 30 point triple double (which I'm ready to just name the Luka Donicic after the last few weeks). The Pelicans have no answer for Jokic which leads to struggles for the Pels against the Nuggets.

In their last 11 matchups, the Pelicans are 4-7 against the Nuggets. Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Aaron Gordon are all mismatch nightmares that New Orleans struggles to deal with. Pelicans fans need to pray day in and day out from here until the end of April that this potential matchup doesn't come to fruition in the first round.

This potential matchup is why a four-game winning streak against the dregs of the Eastern Conference is so important. As Denver continues to win and rise up the Western Conference standings, New Orleans has to do the same in order to delay a matchup against the defending champs as long as possible.

The Thunder, Timberwolves, and the Clippers all present their own set of problems, but none of those compare to the struggles Denver would bring to the Big Easy. The schedule is tough. but the Pels stacking wins against bad teams is a prerequisite for the team to succeed come playoff time.