The Pelicans first playoff game is Wednesday night. It may be game 82 on the schedule but the result is likely to sway if they reach the actual playoffs. Survive and advance is a college basketball term but apt for this contest against the Spurs.
The Oklahoma City Thunder will play the Minnesota Timberwolves at the same time. If, somehow, OKC drops that game the Pelicans are in the playoffs. Since that seems extremely unlikely the Pelicans must defeat the defending champs to punch their ticket to the postseason.
Last time these teams played in the Smoothie King Center the Pels pulled out a 97-90 victory. Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Eric Gordon, Quincy Pondexter, and Norris Cole did not play in that game. Austin Rivers (29 minutes!), and John Salmons (18!!) did. Needless to say, there is not a whole lot to be taken from that game.
Except this beautiful highlight.
Since the tail end of their annual Rodeo Road Trip (February 27th) the Spurs have been demolishing everyone who stands in their way. Gregg Popovich's team is 21-3 in that span and 19 of those wins were by double digits.
Their three losses are an overtime thriller to Cleveland when Kyrie Irving scored 55, a loss to the Dallas Mavericks where Monta Ellis dropped 38, and a baffling loss in Madison Square Garden to the New York Knicks.
A win will secure the second seed in the West for San Antonio. A loss could push them as low as sixth. Popovich has not tipped his hand yet but there is every reason to expect the Spurs to play to win.
Keys to Victory
Chose a Path, Stick With It: Nothing is more important defensively tonight than to stick to a consistent. approach. As I advocated in December, the best chance here is to stick to shooters and make Tony Parker do all the heavy lifting.
Against the Pelicans in November the Spurs logged just 15 assists and 3 secondary assists. It is critical that the Pelicans stick with their conservative game plan of forcing Tony Parker to beat them with his jump shot.
Make Shots: Role players are going to have to make open jumpers tonight. Quincy Pondexter, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Anderson draining 3-pointers at a reasonable clip will create more room for Anthony Davis to operate. Davis making pick and pop jumpers will force the Spurs to attack him more aggressively, creating driving lanes and kick out opportunities.
Just as important, the Pels cannot be hesitant to fire when open. What constitutes an "open" shot tonight is not going to be terribly open. Pondexter and Cole are willing to take these shots. Anderson and Gordon have bypassed looks not completely wide open for less efficient attempts off the bounce.
Don't Dribble Near Kawhi: Seriously. Just don't.
Be MVP: Anthony Davis has a chance to get into the playoffs in his third season. If it is going to happen he will need to have a superlative performance. The Spurs are red hot right now. Davis is going to play 40+ minutes. A massive stat line alone will not be enough.
Davis has be tentative to rotate on defense all season. In games where he is aggressive he is a menace at the rim and piles up blocks by the bushel. Other times he stays glued to his man as the Pelican interior defense is carved like a turkey. AD must help on defense if the Pelicans are going to the playoffs. He must rotate over that extra two steps and defend the rim rather than serve as a welcome mat.
What: Pelicans vs Spurs
Where: Smoothie King Center
When: April 15th, 7:00 PM
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, NBA League Pass