Prediction time: What odds would you give the New Orleans Pelicans of getting into this year’s playoffs and why?
Even with Memphis entering the buzzsaw strapped to a chainsaw glued to rocket-launcher portion of their schedule — and even considering the loss of some of their veteran leadership in trading for Justise Winslow — they have a substantial stiff-arm twisting the Pelicans’ face mask.
Even if the Grizzlies begin to fall off, the Pels still have to get by the Spurs and Trail Blazers. San Antonio is not your father’s — or in some cases your grandfather’s — Spurs anymore, but it doesn’t mean you can easily count them out. The Blazers are on the verge of getting Nurkic back, and Dame’s injury doesn’t seem like it will keep him out very long.
That’s a lot of guys that have been in this position before for a team that hasn’t had stability and much success to lean on to pass up. The Pelicans are mega-talented — and if we started from scratch I think they are playoff locks — but we don’t get do-overs. So while I wouldn’t be shocked if the Pelicans eventually vault themselves into the 8th seed, I’m not expecting it.
It’s difficult to place a number on it, but I’m 60/40 on their chances, even with New Orleans being five and a half games out.
Everyone, of course, will point to remaining schedules and the Pelicans and Grizzlies sitting at complete opposite ends in correspondence to difficulty. However Memphis is relying on several young talents along this journey. Once they feel the footsteps from others, will they be able to hold firm? The Pelicans are healthy again and have a much simpler road to travel. If they continue to play the basketball they’ve complied over the past two months, they have a better chance than their games back metric suggests.
New Orleans also has several games remaining with the teams that are currently around them and match up well with every single one minus San Antonio. The Spurs, however, are no longer the consistent force we’ve gotten used to seeing the past 20 years so I expect New Orleans to figure them out in three remaining matchups.
So then there’s Portland, who had been playing good basketball leading into the all-star break...until they ran into the Pelicans and a Damian Lillard injury the following night. While reinforcements are on their way, can they sustain a tricky groin injury to Lillard and keep space between them and a Pelicans team already 3-0 looking to sweep the season series this Friday? Doesn’t sound easy.
The final two games between the Pels and Grizzlies in March will determine the Western Conference’s 8th seed in my opinion. With Memphis not seemingly matching up well with NOLA personnel wise, I’m pegging the Pelicans as favorites.
The odds are long, but math is on New Orleans’ side. Aren’t we an analytical league these days anyway?
The Pelicans are currently 1.5 games back from the 9th seeded Portland Trailblazers and 5.5 games behind the 8th seeded Memphis Grizzles. Closing that deficit is no small task with only 27 regular season games remaining; however, the Pelicans possess the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA while the Grizzlies the toughest.
I can envision a scenario where the Pelicans finish the season 20-7 and the Grizzlies finish 14-14, which would give the Pelicans a narrow one-game edge after the final game of the season. The Spurs and Trail Blazers could complicate matters a bit as they sit ahead of New Orleans and are fighting for the same spot. Prior to the All-Star break though, Damian Lillard sustained a groin injury which is expected to cost him at least a few games. That could be huge with so few games remaining.
In addition to having a relatively easy schedule to close the season, the Pelicans also play everyone who is ahead of them in the race for the 8th seed, giving them an opportunity to quickly close the gap. If the team hopes to keep their playoff chances alive, they will have to bring it every night. There will be very little room for error and New Orleans can not afford to lose any games to teams they must leap.
Either way, I’m thrilled with this season. The Pelicans have learned a lot about their young roster, and even if they miss the postseason, playing meaningful games down the stretch is exactly what this roster needs. Think of the final 27 games as an extended playoff series.
David Fisher: 50%
I truly think they’re the favorite with Memphis and Portland well behind them. New Orleans should finish this season with 40 wins or more and the tiebreaker over both the Grizzlies and Blazers. I don’t think either of those teams reach 41+.
David Grubb: > 50%
I give the Pelicans a better than 50/50 chance to make the playoffs. There are a lot of things to like about the schedule, the roster, and what the other teams in front of them have to face. The two issues that concern me are health (particularly Derrick Favors’ back and Brandon Ingram’s pesky knee), and the 5.5 game deficit. Even under the best circumstances, a 5.5 game deficit is very difficult to overcome. New Orleans has to win basically two out of every three games the rest of the way, and they haven’t shown that type of consistency yet with only one winning streak of four games all season. So while I am optimistic, I remain cautiously so.
I’m giving them a 50 percent chance of making the playoffs and my reasoning is simple: the Pelicans are a good team. I don’t need advanced numbers to confirm what my eyes are seeing. Since Zion’s debut, this is one of the eight best Western Conference teams.
Think of it this way, remember the 1995 Power Rangers movie when the Ninja Mega Zord was getting its ass kicked by Ivan Ooze because they were missing Tommy’s Falcon zord? Then Tommy joined up with the others, formed the Falcon Ninja Mega Zord and then they kneed Ooze in the dick and sent him flying into a comet? That’s what Zion’s doing for the Pelicans. He’s the missing piece that’s going to get New Orleans in the postseason and send Portland and Memphis flying into that comet called “the lottery.”
At the start of every season, we look at the schedule and jot down expected wins and losses — and things seemingly never go according to plan.
Look, I understand that the Pelicans have been playing well, winning 17 of their last 27 contests, and the remaining schedule is the easiest in the land. However, I can’t help shake the feeling that a key injury or two, a slump here and there, or just some bad luck is waiting around the corner. Barring an utter collapse by the Grizzlies, any bump in the road for New Orleans is likely to knock them out of the race since they’re sitting 5.5 games behind with only 27 left to play.
Sorry to be Debbie Downer, but outside of the run to squeeze into the 2018 playoffs, how many other instances can you recall of things working out so well during the final stretch in Pelicans franchise history?
I’m a comfortable mix of “meh” and “excited” about making the playoffs, and I’ll say there are too many teams between us and the 8th seed. I’ll give us the 3rd best shot behind Memphis and San Antonio. Something bugs me about Portland. I do know everything about the remaining strength of schedule for those teams, but it has gotten late early. Although it could be exciting, I’m planning on a summer of Zion-less playoffs, maybe for the only time in his career. Hall of Fame here we come!