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Pelicans continue rising in NBA power rankings thanks to strong finish to 2016

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Three of four power rankings put the Pels in the top 20!

NBA: New York Knicks at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans are in the thick of the playoff race after a strong finish to 2016. Winners of five of their last six the Pels are just one game back of the Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets for the eighth and final playoff spot. (Reward, a probable date in the first round with the Golden State Warriors.) Yes, 14-21 and seven games under .500 is enough to be in the playoff hunt.

Once again conferences are playing against the Pelicans long term best interests. You may recall in 2015 I ranted about conferences and how New Orleans would be much better served if the playoff bracket selected the 16 best teams and disregarded conference altogether. Here the Pelicans face the other side of this coin, locked into clear playoff contention without actually being good.

The Pelicans are 14-21. If the NBA seeded without conferences they would be three games behind the New York Knicks for the 16th seed with seven teams (the Knicks, Bulls, Pistons, Magic, Kings, Nuggets, and Blazers) standing in their way. Even still with the benefit of being in the West the Pelicans playoff odds are still meager at this time. 11.8% according to Basketball Reference and less so from Five Thirty Eight (10%) and ESPN (7.2%).

Playoff Odds - January 2nd

Playoff Odds BB Ref ESPN Five Thirty Eight
Playoff Odds BB Ref ESPN Five Thirty Eight
Portland 28.1% 50.0% 43.0%
Denver 29.0% 25.8% 25.0%
Sacramento 22.8% 12.3% 22.0%
New Orleans 11.8% 7.2% 10.0%
Minnesota 7.4% 4.6% 8.0%

The Orlando Magic, a full game ahead of the Pelicans, face far longer odds (1.0% according to ESPN!) thanks to being in the more difficult conference. Roles have reversed but the outcome is still the same. Bad teams shouldn’t be rewarded with the brass ring of a possible playoff bid.

Note: The Brooklyn Nets ended up with the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference in 2015. They currently have the worst record in the NBA.

NBA.com

Last Week: 22 - This Week: 19

The Pelicans have been playing Anthony Davis exclusively at center the last three games, and haven't even used Alexis Ajinca (three straight DNPs) or Omer Asik (four straight DNPs) as his back-up. The reported addition of Donatas Motiejunas could give them a post presence and a little more size without having to sacrifice offensive skills. So far, the defense hasn't suffered with Davis as a full-time center and the Pels have won four straight to join the fight for eighth place in the West. But if they're going to stay in it, they'll have to do by beating teams in the East, as Friday's win over the Knicks began a stretch of 11 straight games against the opposite conference. The opponents get weaker after this week and the Pels are the only team that doesn't have a back-to-back in January.

ESPN

Last Week: 26 - This Week: 22

The Pelicans have quietly won five of their last six games. They're actually 14-13 since the 0-8 nightmare ... and a promising 12-8 when Jrue Holiday is in uniform. You figure that the Pels can live with going 4-1 on a homestand that both Alvin Gentry and Anthony Davis had proclaimed to be crucial in terms of keeping this season alive, since six of the next seven games will be roadies. The Brow, if you're keeping track, is up to a league-leading 14 games with at least 20 points and 15 boards. He'll also soon be getting some interesting frontcourt help with New Orleans poised to sign Donatas Motiejunas in a potential bargain-bin find.

Sports Illustrated

Last Week: 23 - This Week: 17

The Pelicans made the most of a five-game homestand, pulling out four wins and vaulting back into the eight-seed picture. They’re reportedly close to adding Donatas Motiejunas on the cheap, too. For now, 2017 is trending up.

CBS Sports

Last Week: 22 - This Week: 18

The Pelicans have won five of six, mostly against middling-to-bad teams. But they have to start somewhere. Tyreke Evans just returned, giving them one more weapon, and they picked up Donatas Motiejunas. It won't take much to win the West's 8th seed, which no one is good enough to securely claim. Don't be shocked if the Pelicans somehow find their way back into this thing.