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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans conclude regular season against San Antonio Spurs with major playoff implications on the line

The Pels are playoff bound, but a victory over the Spurs guarantees a much more favorable first round matchup.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Three years ago, the New Orleans Pelicans needed an important win against the Golden State Warriors to help their playoff cause, but whether or not they’d make the 2015 postseason wouldn’t be decided until game number 82 against the San Antonio Spurs.

What’s that adage about the more things change, the more they stay the same?

Jump ahead to 2018 and the Pelicans are officially in the postseason, with plenty of thanks to picking up a rare win over the same Warriors. But, we don’t yet know who the Pelicans will play in round one, and whether they’ll be hosting or hitting the road for the first two games of the series. We won’t find that out until New Orleans, once again, closes out a regular season schedule against San Antonio.

Though the stakes of “what seed will the Pelicans be” aren’t quite as high as 2015’s “will the Pelicans make the playoffs,” Wednesday’s game is a virtuoso playoff game for all intents and purposes. As David laid out, a win for New Orleans gives a chance at hosting round one and, if nothing else, avoids both the Rockets and the Warriors.

The Pelicans own tiebreakers over both the Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder so that makes the finale even more important for New Orleans. The Pelicans need a win to keep pace with Oklahoma City, who are concluding their regular season with the tanking Memphis Grizzlies. To put it simply, the Pelicans should be the No. 5 or No. 6 seed and facing the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, and that is all dependent on knocking off San Antonio.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The good news is these Spurs aren’t quite as Spurs-y as we’ve known them to be over the past two decades. Gregg Popovich is, of course, still there, as are Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, but main man Kawhi Leonard has gone MIA for most of the season. These Spurs are like The Office when Michael left, or That ‘70s Show when Eric and Kelso left. Sure, it’s the same show but also not at the same time.

In other words, these Spurs are a little more mortal than they have been in their peak. They won’t run you off the court with a flurry of points; instead they like to slow you down and put you in a headlock, holding you down till you submit. Case in point: while they’re 27th in points per game, they compensate by leading the league in opposing points allowed; they may be 29th in pace but that’s okay, they’re only No. 3 in defensive rating.

A key for New Orleans is whether or not they score at least 100 points in the Smoothie King Center. Since the All-Star break, the Spurs are 3-10 when they allow opponents to score 100 or more. The Spurs like to play at the same pace as a unicycle with a busted wheel. New Orleans needs to be a Ferrari, with a rocket strapped on top.

Three months ago, the Pelicans were thrown away. Presumed finished following DeMarcus Cousins’ ruptured Achilles, New Orleans was maybe going to finish at or around .500 and be this year’s would’ve-could’ve-should’ve team. And yet here they are, on the last night of the regular season with a postseason spot locked up and competing for a chance to possibly host a playoff series.

New Orleans will face a tough, veteran team, with major playoff implications on the line. The Pelicans answered the call three years ago, let’s hope they can do it again.

Geaux Pels!

What: New Orleans Pelicans vs San Antonio Spurs

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: 7:00 pm Central

How: Fox Sports New Orleans, 99.5 FM WRNO