Ah, the blinds have been lifted and the season is in sight with the NBA schedule's release. Now, it's just going to take good old patience until we have something substantial and tangible to talk about. Sweet, sweet patience.
I can't do it; let's talk basketball. Below are my top five Pelicans' games for the upcoming 2015-2016 season. Comment and give me your list, or even better, just agree with mine and make me feel smart!
#5: November 18 at Oklahoma City Thunder
All eyes will be on the first meeting between the Thunder and the Pelicans, two teams that were so recently jockeying for a playoff spot. Of course, the Pelicans flew above the rain clouds and slipped past the Thunder for the eighth spot in last year's playoffs, a triumph attained by of one man's heroics, that man being Anthony Davis. This is the first game since "the shot."
You know what shot.
The double-clutch 33-footer indubitably looms large in the minds of OKC players and fans entering this season, as it robbed them of a playoff spot, a possible consolation in an injury-endemic season. The thunderous crowd that was hushed, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins, Anthony Davis... the stage is set up for an encore.
And aside from the Shakespearian motifs of revenge and cycles that are in play, the tactics should be interesting too. It will be our first time checking out Billy Donovan as an NBA coach, and a possible, way-to-early playoff matchup preview (3 and 6?).
#4: December 12 at Chicago Bulls
A big attraction about this contest is the coaching matchup: Fred Hoiberg, who loves to play with a little snap, and Alvin Gentry will be revving their engines in this East-West face-off. The coaching battle will be primarily seen in the line ups and the roles of the centers. Will Omer Asik be used more of as a defensive anchor to stop mismatches or will he being contesting Joakim Noah on every board?
Or will both teams decide to shrink the lineups and go without true centers? Gentry cannot play a full out run-and-gun against most teams with Asik, Ajinca, or Perkins on the court, but he just signed all of them to new contracts, proving that he wants them involved. In games like these, the true nature of Gentry's vision should reveal itself.
This game is also the first of an otherwise relaxing five-game road trip. The outcome of the Bulls game could swing momentum towards a 5-0 cruise or a 2-3 unpleasant work trip.
#3: December 25 at Miami Heat
Sit the kids down, open some presents, and enjoy your excuse to escape the escapades that are family get-togethers. Don't worry, the Pels got your back, dreaders of family formals.
Not only is your excuse a basketball game, but a damn good one at that. The Miami Heat are an intriguing team that inexplicably missed out on playoffs last year. Last year isn't this year, however, and the Heat have bolstered their ranks. Dwyane Wade and co. will be hoping Nola can't burn them with pace and speed, but if Miami can control the tempo, the Pelicans could have quite the handful.
With Hassan Whiteside, Chris Bosh, Justice Winslow, Dwyane Wade, and Luol Deng, the Heat will have four men looking to post at a time, a potential hazard for the Pelicans. Teams built to run typically might suffer from interior post defense or strong defenders, and the Pelicans are no exception. Tyreke Evans could be the man singled out by Miami unless New Orleans conjures up a solution.
Darren Erman's defensive genius could stand out in games like this. Against bigger teams that will slow it down at every chance, the Pelicans will need some creative schemes defensively to crack that offensive shell and get the juices flowing. This is why Erman was brought in. The specifics are unbeknownst to me, but I can imagine that there will be copious traps and flying limbs to force turnovers and create gift baskets the other way. Merry Christmas.
#2 October 27 at Golden State Warriors
Just about two months away, opening night seems so distant. But this game is well worth the wait. For the Pels, it's a chance to get some retribution for last year's disappointing Game 3 meltdown and prove this team has its crosshairs aimed beyond just a playoff berth. For the Warriors, this is their opportunity to do what they do, ooh and awe, as their sold-out stands of supporters witness them raise the banner and receive some bling. In other words, they could just have a fun night.
It's also the return of Alvin Gentry to Golden State and his first impression amongst Pelicans supporters. Just what will this run-and-gone entail and will it work against the best? Remember, the problem with the system historically is that fast teams crumble against disciplined, fundamental ones (see the mid-2000s Suns). And maybe, just maybe, Davis showcases what he's been working on this offseason, as well as a slimmer, slicker Tyreke Evans regaining his rookie self. Heck, it'll be a fun night for both sides, no matter the result.
Basketball is back (in two months). Hoorah!
#1 March 30 at San Antonio Spurs
This one holds real importance for the playoff race. In a perfect world, the Pelicans would have won every game up until this point, thus securing their spot as the no. 1 seed. Luke Babbitt would also have a fresh haircut in such a world. This world ain't perfect, though.
No, more realistically, the Pelicans will be fighting for their playoff lives or at least jostling for 6-8 positioning around this point, with only eight games to follow. So why is this game so important?
Well, this could be the make-or-break game for the Pels. It is their truly last demanding test, as the games that follow are the Nuggets, Nets, 76ers, Celtics, Lakers, Suns, Bulls, and, finally, Timberwolves. It's entirely possible that only one of those teams ends up above .500.
The Spurs will preview the playoffs for the Pels but also set the course for the Pelicans to finish on. A win against the Spurs would be a momentum-gainer, and surely spell the Pelicans down the Yellow-Brick Road. A loss might not exactly be a Highway to Hell, but it's not ideal.
And at this point, both teams will still have their starters in (Spurs do not have a game one day before) and chemistry down. The Spurs are another team who will play through their bigs and look to slow down the games, not to mention a veteran team that won't choke. The only way to beat them will be to outplay them, just as the Pelicans did on the final day of last season to make the playoffs.
This game might not have the same immediate, direct connection as last year's finale, but prevailing would provide New Orleans with the start to a strong finish.
So let me know what your most-anticipated games are in the comments below. And if you want, follow me on Twitter @IsaacConstans for Pelicans tweets and some rap insights now and then.