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NBA Standings: The Pelicans upcoming brutal stretch

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Despite sitting in 9th place, the New Orleans Pelicans still are in control of their destiny because of games played. They have the same number of losses as the Oklahoma City and hold what might end up being the crucial tiebreaker.

Now for the bad news. The combined record of the Pelicans next 4 opponents is currently 178-93. Yep, it's just another trip through the Western Conference! With no more Eastern Conference teams on the rest of the season schedule, New Orleans has their work cut out for them. What makes this next stretch more important than perhaps some games in April is that it's still too early to hope that a number of the playoff teams will be resting key players.

The Next Four

The Suns will be coming off a 3 day layoff after beating the Knicks last Sunday. However, as it was mentioned in the game preview, Phoenix shouldn't present the same problems they did earlier in the year. With Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas in different uniforms, the Suns attack won't be as formidable, especially with Brandon Knight and Alex Len slated to miss the Pelicans match-up. New Orleans absolutely has to notch a victory Thursday in what is shaping up to be a schedule break.

On the second night of a back-to-back, the Pelicans will face the Warriors on Friday. There is a decent chance Steve Kerr rests some players as the match-up with New Orleans represents the first game of 4 in 5 days for Golden State. Last week, the team did rest a number of key starters against the Nuggets on the front end of another back-to-back. In response to a number of angry fans, look at this telling quote:

But Kerr is preparing his team to be fresh come playoff time for what the franchise hopes is a deep run.

"It's tough, if I was a kid and had one ticket to go to and guys rested," Bogut said. "It's just a part of the grueling NBA season. It's unfortunate for the fans who were a little [ticked] off by it, but we have aspirations to go deep in the playoffs and to get to the end, we have to do what's best for our side."

One important player that will miss the game is Klay Thompson. He sprained his ankle against the Lakers and was originally scheduled to miss 7-10 days. Barring a miracle, one of the Splash Brothers will be out. Will Kerr decide to rest at a minimum Andrew Bogut? We can hope!

Following a day off, the Pelicans third game will be on Sunday afternoon against the Clippers. Blake Griffin returned three games ago, but it does appear that Jamal Crawford will continue to sit on the sidelines. With L.A. just two games out of the 3rd seed in the Western Conference, don't expect Doc Rivers to rest players. Not with their next back-to-back until April.

To cap off the week, the Pelicans will retreat (hopefully not a bad omen!) to the comfy confines of the Smoothie King Center to do battle with the Rockets. Although New Orleans is 2-0 against Houston, it will be difficult to stay out of the loss column. Dwight Howard is nearing a return so the Pelicans should expect he'll be in uniform next Wednesday. In addition, Terrence Jones has been back for awhile and playing really well.

Like the Clippers, the Rockets have no back-to-backs during this part of the schedule. Further, Kevin McHale has not made any mention of resting players yet. A fully healthy Rockets squad sounds likely, but I'm hoping the Pelicans will be able to counter that with a return of Ryan Anderson. Although he's already been ruled out for the upcoming road trip, the fact he's traveling with the team bodes well for a return in the near future. Pray it's next Wednesday!

At a minimum, the New Orleans Pelicans will need to go 2-2 over the next week if they probably want to remain legitimate contenders for postseason play. Although the Thunder will face the Heat and the Lakers within the same time frame, they'll also have to contend with the Hawks and Spurs. Realistically, no one should expect anything better than a 3-1 record. Not with Serge Ibaka out for the rest of the regular season.

Geaux Pellies!