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NBA Standings: Pelicans knocking on the door of Western Conference playoff picture

New Orleans has played well, but an important 7-game stretch lies ahead, one that will likely be dictate Demps' direction just prior to the upcoming trade deadline.

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Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Since the last standings watch, the New Orleans Pelicans have gained two games in the loss column on the 8th seed in the Western Conference race. They have won five of their last seven games including wins over the Detroit Pistons and Sacramento Kings. Although they currently sit 3 games behind the Portland Trail Blazers, it's more important to note the difference in losses (it's just 2) for teams interested in controlling their own destiny.

The main reason for their recent stretch of wins has been the schedule -- it finally lightened up once the calendar flipped to 2016. They wrap up a 7-game home stand on Monday night versus the Memphis Grizzlies. The competition they've welcomed to the Smoothie King Center has been average to below average. In fact, according to the NBA Sagarin ratings, the Pelicans have faced just two top-10 teams (Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers) during the entire month of January.

In addition to the weaker schedule, the Pelicans have been carried by a trio of players over the last 14 days. Anthony Davis has averaged 23.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.2 blocks, Jrue Holiday with 20.6 points, 7.9 assists, 1.4 threes and 1.1 steals, and Ryan Anderson, 19.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.1 threes and 1.6 assists. This group has combined to shoot 48.0% from the field, 44.4% from three-point range and 85.7% from the free throw line. That's outstanding production, and it has helped to offset the recent losses of Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon to injury.

Even Kayne West had to take time off from fighting on social media to applaud the Pelicans' recent efforts!

During the first week of February, the New Orleans Pelicans will face the second and fourth best teams according to the Sagarin ratings, the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers. In addition, the Grizzlies should prove to be far from pushovers. Then, prior to the All-Star break, the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder lie in wait. A poor run through this part of the schedule could effectively end legitimate postseason hope and decide how Dell Demps approaches the February 18th trade deadline.

Stay tuned!