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New Orleans Pelicans still face uphill climb to snag 8th and final playoff spot

Denver and Portland are the biggest roadblocks in the way of #BoogieBrow to make the 2017 postseason.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Now for the hard part: actually making the post season. I expect the New Orleans Pelicans have a decent shot at doing so, but at best it is probably a coin-flip. That’s probably a lot lower than many fans would think after DeMarcus Cousins found his way to the Crescent City, but I think the road to passing the Denver Nuggets is more difficult than it might first appear.

New Orleans is 2.5 games behind the Nuggets. Denver has 26 games remaining while the Pelicans have 25, giving the Nuggets one additional shot at a win. Furthermore, Denver has more home games, fewer back-to-backs, and more opponents on a SEGABABA down the stretch. The Portland Trail Blazers too have many of these same advantages but are just a half game ahead of New Orleans.

Luckily the tie-breakers for New Orleans with both Denver and Portland have yet to be decided. The Pelicans are 0-1 against the Nuggets (the opening night loss) and 1-1 against the Blazers. Anthony Davis and company will play the Nuggets three times in 13 days to determine that series while the Portland series will be decided on the final night of the season at the Moda Center. The Pelicans have lost 11 straight games in Oregon.

(H/T: to @johnschuhmann for a lot of the legwork to compile the below table)

Race for 8th

Team Denver Portland New Orleans Dallas
Team Denver Portland New Orleans Dallas
Home 13 14 12 13
Road 13 12 13 13
.500+ 11 10 10 13
<.500 15 16 15 13
Back-to-Backs 5 5 6 4
Opp B2B 7 7 5 2

The front end of the schedule is far more difficult than the back end for the Pelicans. In the first 15 games they face eight opponents who are .500 or better while in the final ten games they face just two; the Utah Jazz (in Salt Lake City on a SEGABABA no less, pencil that in as a probable loss) and the Golden State Warriors (also on the road on a SEGABABA).

However, that game at the Oracle Arena has a chance to be an unexpected victory for New Orleans. It’s game 80 for both teams and while the Pelicans will hopefully be battling for the 8th and final seed the Warriors may have the top seed in the playoffs already locked up. Unless, of course, Steve Kerr and the Golden State brass would rather go full tilt and help make sure they don’t have to see #BoogieBrow in the first round.

The season ends on a long west coast road trip. Given the recent trade of Lou Williams the Lakers will probably been in all-out tank mode. The other three games, against the Nuggets, Warriors (mentioned above), and Blazers could well decide if New Orleans plays on into the post-season.

Pelicans Remaining Schedule

Date Opponent Pelicans Rest Opponent Rest Advantage TV
Date Opponent Pelicans Rest Opponent Rest Advantage TV
2/23/2017 Houston 7 7
2/25/2017 at Dallas 1 SEGABABA Pelicans
2/26/2017 at Oklahoma City SEGABABA 1 Opponent NBATV
3/1/2017 Detroit 2 SEGABABA Pelicans
3/3/2017 San Antonio 1 1 ESPN
3/5/2017 at LA Lakers 1 1
3/6/2017 at Utah SEGABABA SEGABABA
3/8/2017 Toronto 1 3
3/11/2017 at Charlotte 2 SEGABABA Pelicans
3/14/2017 Portland 2 1
3/15/2017 at Miami SEGABABA 2 Opponent
3/17/2017 Houston 1 1
3/19/2017 Minnesota 1 1
3/21/2017 Memphis 1 2
3/24/2017 at Houston 2 3
3/26/2017 at Denver 1 1
3/27/2017 at Utah SEGABABA 1 Opponent TNT
3/29/2017 Dallas 1 1
3/31/2017 Sacramento 1 1
4/2/2017 Chicago 1 SEGABABA Pelicans
4/4/2017 Denver 1 1
4/7/2017 at Denver 2 1
4/8/2017 at Golden State SEGABABA 2 Opponent
4/11/2017 at LA Lakers 2 1
4/12/2017 at Portland SEGABABA 1 Opponent ESPN

As always the biggest part is going to be taking care of business against sub-par opponents. If Alvin Gentry can get this team ready and they can dominate under .500 opposition it will not take a ton of upsets against the real contenders to find their way into the 8th seed. Winning the games against Denver and Portland is vital unless their fate is already determined before the 82nd game.

Five Thirty Eight, Basketball Reference, and ESPN’s BPI all project the last playoff seed to require 37-38 wins. To get to 38 wins (which would exceed the Pelicans over/under from the beginning of the season) New Orleans has to go 15-10 down the stretch. That’s playing like a 49-win team over the course of the season. That’s not too bad. In 2015 the Pelicans went 18-11 after the All-Star Break, or roughly the pace of a 51 win team.

If Monty Williams could pull it off when the biggest additions were Quincy Pondexter and Norris Cole it should be a snap for Alvin Gentry after adding a legitimate All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins. Right?