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Have the Pelicans already been eliminated from the playoffs?

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The national media (and some local media) will have you believe the Pelicans chances of making the playoffs are slim to none. Let me tell you why this is the furthest thing from the truth.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Pack it in, the season is over! The Pelicans should spend the rest of the 2014-15 season determining which pieces will remain with the team in the future and what moves need to be made in order to compete for the 8th seed in 2015-16.

Pelicans Soup Nazi

This is the thought being peddled by the national media and some local media.

If you have read Howard Beck’s piece or listened to the BS Report with Bill Simmons and guest Zach Lowe, the statement is clear and concise, "The Western Conference playoff race is over."

They both make this proclamation with the safety net of any significant trade or injury, which one or both happen every single year. So what are these two well-thought of NBA writers really concluding? That if Adam Silver could turn off trades and injuries, ala NBA 2k15, the same eight teams from the previous season would make the playoffs this season?

However, are we so sure that the eight teams that will represent the Western Conference in the 2014-15 playoffs will be the same eight teams from last season?

HISTORY CLASS

Quick question, since 1984 when the NBA first introduced a 16 team playoff format, how many times have the same eight teams represented the Western Conference in the playoffs in consecutive seasons? I will save you the research, zero. That is right, there has never been two consecutive playoffs in which the same eight teams have represented the Western Conference. The same eight teams did not make the playoffs during strike shortened seasons, nor did they repeat during the years when there were only 23 teams in the NBA.

Undoubtedly, the Pelicans are in an uphill battle to supplant the Warriors, Grizzlies, Mavericks, Rockets, Blazers. Clippers, Thunder and the Spurs, all while holding off the Suns and the Kings.

All of the above mentioned teams are playing great basketball, with the top seven winning 60% of their games. Let’s not get lost in those details. The fact that all of these teams are playing great right now does not mean their current pace is sustainable through an 82 game season. There will be injuries, slumps and increasing strength of schedules (decreasing if you are the Pels).

If you remember my piece from earlier in the season entitled, "The Anatomy of a Western Conference Playoff Team" you will see that the goal I set for the Pelicans was to reach 50 wins. If they record 50 wins this season, they will be one of the eight western conference playoff teams.

That is, unless you believe that the 2014-15 Western Conference is the best in the history of the NBA.

For a little historical context, the best 8th seed records in NBA history are:

Year Team Record
2009-2010 OKC Thunder 50-32
2007-2008 Denver Nuggets 50-32
2013-2014 Dallas Mavericks 49-33
2008-2009 Utah Jazz 48-34
2010-2011 Memphis Grizzlies 46-36

There has never been a 50 win team that has not made the playoffs since the implementation of the eighth seed.

On the flip side, the following are the best records to NOT make the playoffs in NBA history:

Year Team Record
2007-2008 GS Warriors 48-34
2013-2014 Phoenix Suns 48-34
2008-2009 Phoenix Suns 46-36
2012-2013 Utah Jazz 43-39

There has NEVER been a team that has won 49 or more games and not made the playoffs.

The point is, fans should not get lost in the fact that the eight teams in front of the Pels are playing so well at the moment. The goal is the same now as it was when I wrote my earlier piece, win 49-50 games and the Pels chances of making the playoffs are really, really good.

Currently, the Spurs are the seventh seed and are on pace for less than 49 wins. I am not necessarily suggesting that the Spurs will be the team we leapfrog, but all of these teams will start beating up on each other at some point.

The Pels have also done a nice job against the teams that are going to finish in the 7-10 spots in the race for the Western Conference playoffs. Against such teams, they are 5-1 (Spurs, Suns and Thunder) with the lone loss coming against the Spurs on New Year's Eve...in overtime...on a fluke play.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE

The strength of schedule for these teams will play a huge role in determining who will be in and who will be out.

The Pels in December have played the fourth toughest schedule in the entire league. In January, they will sport the sixth easiest schedule.

While the Pels will finish the year with one of the toughest schedules played in the NBA, the gap between their schedule and teams such as the Blazers (3rd easiest schedule so far) and OKC (8th easiest) will start to close in our favor.

Maybe some fans are skeptical and believe the team has been nothing more than mediocre during the first third of the NBA season. Here are the teams that have played a top 8 strength of schedule so far and their corresponding records.

Team Strength of Schedule Record
Lakers .533 10-22
Pelicans .527 16-16
Kings .515 13-19
Knicks .514 5-29
Hornets .513 10-23
Pacers .513 12-21
Jazz .510 11-21
Denver .509 13-19

The first observation to be made is that the Lakers and the Pels have played a significantly tougher schedule than any other team this season.  Secondly, no other team in the above reference chart is near .500 except for the Pels.

The belief that the Pelicans playoff chances are doomed is most likely a psychological issue with the media claiming this as fact. Meaning, New Orleans has not been good for a few years now, the teams in front of us have all been good for multiple years, and the writers and pontificators cannot fathom a world in which we could possibly bypass any of those teams that have made the playoffs seemingly year after year.

I believe those national voices are looking at this the wrong way. Instead of the Spurs or Clippers falling out of the playoffs, I believe if the Pels make the playoffs, it will be because the Pels ascended, improved and won 49-50 games.

Believe what you want based on the results so far, but this team is much better than they were last season. Think of how many bad streaks have been broken so far this season. Winning in Houston, in OKC and in San Antonio. Beating those teams on their home floors is not a mistake, nor did it happen because of countless of fluke plays.

MAKING IT HAPPEN

Regardless of how their schedule lightens up, the Pels still have to go out and win the games.  Because they are in the Western Conference, they cannot afford to take any nights off.  Every game must seem like a playoff game.

The Pels will play a total of 37 games this year versus teams with a sub .500 record. Currently, not including the OKC games as they will be over .500, NOP are 9-3 versus sub .500 teams. Is it inconceivable that the Pels will go 20-5 in those remaining 25 games versus sub .500 teams? Their current pace suggests they should win at least 19 of those games.

The real question is, can the Pels play close to .500 ball against winning teams for the remainder of the season? They will face those teams 25 more times this season and if the Pels can go 13-12 in those games, they will finish the season with 49 wins (assuming a 20-5 mark against sub .500 teams).

And no team has ever won 49 games and not made the playoffs.