After the conclusion of last night's play, here are the current standings for the Western Conference:
The Pelicans trail the Thunder by 2 games, but they own the tiebreaker. If they could somehow win a couple more games the rest of the way, the playoffs would most likely become a reality. However, I implore you to not hold out for this scenario.
With a 9-1 record in their last 10 games, Oklahoma City is on a mission. Unless both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are sidelined together again, the playoffs appear on their horizon. 14 of their remaining 25 games are at home, and let's face it, everyone figured they would get their act together before the season was out.
Rather, let's focus on the several teams above them in the standings. Joel Meyers has been saying that another team is going to come back to the pack and I've wholeheartedly agreed with that sentiment for quite some time now.
The first, and most likely candidate, are the San Antonio Spurs. Last night, they lost to Portland and that makes 4 straight since the All-Star break. They have never had a losing record on the rodeo trip, but they are assured of one now. Scary for them, that's the second 4 game losing streak on the season.
After having a win percentage over 70% the last four years, the fact they're flirting with 60% strongly signals they are vulnerable. Although Tim Duncan remains impervious to age, the rest of his teammates have been underachieving. For instance, Kawhi Leonard has not taken that next step and become a star while Tony Parker's performance has slipped off a cliff. That's a problem according to Gregg Popovich.
"If he’s not the Tony Parker of past years," Popovich told the Express-News on Wednesday, "we’re not going anywhere."
Next on the list are the Los Angeles Clippers. Although the Pelicans trail them by 6 1/2 games, they have some adversity ahead. First, Blake Griffin remains without a timetable for a return. They're 4-3 without him, but they're not a deep team and any other significant injuries has a real chance of derailing their season. Second, out of their remaining 24 games, only 10 are at home. A current 14-13 away record signals a number of additional losses are upcoming.
Lastly, the Dallas Mavericks, 7 1/2 games ahead of the Pelicans, are in the discussion. Dirk Nowitzki's February splits scream average, Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons are a bit banged up and Rajon Rondo was suspended from last night's game against the Atlanta Hawks due to a serious altercation with head coach Rick Carlisle. The discord in Dallas could cause some problems, but it's not hard to notice the Mavericks have one of the hardest remaining schedules.
First and foremost
Is it likely one of the teams the Pelicans are chasing seriously falter down the stretch? Probably not. Thus, the Pelicans are going to have to continue adding to the win column in bunches. Their current 3 game winning streak has been a revelation considering Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday have not contributed to it. Yet, it's difficult to imagine they can continue stringing victories together for a prolonged period without their best players.
To overcome such an obstacle, that would require something really special. Say, something along these lines:
Quincy Pondexter on 3 recent wins: "You guys (the media) counted us out. No one in this locker room counted us out. We have a lot of heart."— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) February 26, 2015
Do the Pelicans possess enough heart to continue making a serious run? Perhaps, perhaps not. However, it's going to be fun watching this group try like hell. Dante Cunningham, Omer Asik, Quincy Pondexter and Norris Cole don't look like they know how to quit. Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon are capable of carrying a team any given night. Luke Babbitt and Alexis Ajinca have been surprisingly capable producers of late.
I can't wait to see what's in store over these final 25 games.