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Examining New Orleans Pelicans path of reaching 2020 postseason

Pelicans best avenue for success likely involves going through Memphis

Denver Nuggets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

You should know the format by now.

  • 22-teams will each play eight regular season games.
  • Previous regular season records will be factored into the results
  • Should the ninth seed finish within four games of the eighth, a play-in will be triggered. The ninth seed faces single elimination while the eighth faces double.

Clear as mud? Good, let’s move on.

Let’s talk about the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies remaining schedules and how they measure up to one another.

What we know

Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports shed light on how each NBA franchise will continue their remaining schedules. Each respective franchise will play out the remainder of their schedule while eliminating matchups of the eight teams that won’t make the trip to Orlando.

It will not be an exact science, as Goodwill reported, but it does give us a good idea of what Pelicans and Grizzlies fans can come to expect.

The Pelicans should still enjoy one of the league’s easiest records despite losing out on opportunities to pummel the New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets in four potential ‘gimmes.’

Of the 18 remaining games on the Pelicans original regular season schedule, 14 of them could feasibly still take place against nine teams. The Pelicans were scheduled to play Sacramento, Memphis and Washington twice and San Antonio three times. The schedule makers will need to do a bit of gymnastics to figure out the eight best possible matchups across all 22 teams.

Pelicans remaining opponents (all subject to change):

Sacramento Kings - 2x (28-36)

Against .500+ teams: 9-21

Each of the Pelicans eight remaining games serve as de facto playoff games, but games against those competing for the play-in tournament spots will prove pivotal. The Kings are not to be underestimated. They played much of their season without ascending superstar De’Aaron Fox. With him, the Kings surged late in the season, winning seven of their previous ten games. Every player that beat Fox’s numbers (20.4 points, 6.8 assists, four rebounds) earned a nod to the All-Star game.

Utah Jazz (41-23)

Against .500+ teams: 11-15

The Jazz were arguably the most entertaining opponent the Pelicans faced all season. Each of the three matchups contained 248 total points or more. Each game was decided by eight points or less. Brandon Ingram’s All-Star nod came in large part because of his performances against these Jazz, posting averages of 39 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists. On January 16th, he scored 49 points on 25 shots, drawing plenty of national attention in an overtime win.

The Pelicans have not played the Jazz with Zion in the lineup, but think back to the preseason and he had no qualms about attacking Rudy Gobert.

Los Angeles Clippers (44-20)

Against .500+ teams: 17-11

This matchup should be early enough on the eight-game schedule to assume the Pelicans will get the Clippers best shot. The Clippers lead over the Nuggets (1.5 games) is tentative. While the Clippers may not care about a finish in the second or third seed without the benefit of home court advantage, they still need to keep pace from the Jazz who are just three games behind. Should the Jazz catch them, the Clippers may have to face the Lakers in the semifinals rather than the conference finals.

The Pelicans played the Clippers well across three games, stealing the first game thanks to 20 points and 20 rebounds from Derrick Favors. In game two, the Clippers took a decided 25-point victory without he or Zion while the Pelicans were going through the motions of a 13-game losing streak. On January 18th, the Pelicans fell short by just three points. Jrue Holiday, Zion Williamson and Paul George did not suit up. Judging any of the three games becomes a challenge as each featured short-handed squads.

San Antonio Spurs - 3x (27-36)

Against .500+ teams: 11-19

The Pelicans lost their lone matchup against the San Antonio Spurs, albeit it probably deserves an asterisk. That game featured Zion’s inaugural performance in which he only played 18 minutes, hurting Alvin Gentry’s rotations.

The Pelicans had no answers for LaMarcus Aldridge who scored 32 points with 14 rebounds on just 20 shots. Without extended minutes from Zion, the Pelicans were forced to try Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram for large portions of play, resulting in noticeable mismatches.

Memphis Grizzlies - 2x (32-33)

Against .500+ teams: 8-20

The Pelicans fared well against the Grizzlies in the two regular season matchups, defeating them by 10 without Zion or Derrick Favors and then by 28, though in that matchup the Grizzlies were without Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr.

The path to the playoffs will seemingly go through Memphis. Due to the new structured format, Kevin Pelton’s algorithm predicts the Grizzlies have an 80 percent chance of entering the play-in tournament as the eighth seed. The Pelicans would prefer to draw them as a ninth seed, so that they can then face double instead of single elimination.

Either way, if the Pelicans are to squeeze into the playoffs, expect the road to go through Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies.

Orlando (30-35)

Against .500+ teams: 5-26

The Orlando Magic will outplay the form we saw over the latter half of the season with a rejuvenated Jonathan Isaac back in the lineup. With Isaac, the Magic boasted one of the top ten defenses in the NBA (with one of the worst offenses). Without him and with James Ennis as a starting small forward, the Magic’s identity completely flipped and they turned into one of the NBA’s worst defenses and best offenses.

Regardless, the Magic capitalized on subpar opponents in 2019-20, but they have given the Pelicans trouble in the past with their length. Aaron Gordon seems as capable a matchup for Zion as anyone. Isaac could be the perfect Brandon Ingram stopper. Nikola Vucevic will force Derrick Favors to guard out on the perimeter thanks to his dangerous jump shot. Still, the Pelicans backcourt should experience a monstrous advantage in the starting lineup and off the bench. Terrence Ross works opposing benches by curling off picks and generating open looks from deep, but JJ Redick can counter that and then some. The Pelicans should win this matchup.

Washington - 2x (24-40)

Against .500+ teams: 6-20

The Washington Wizards five-man lineup of Isaiah Thomas - Bradley Beal - Davis Bertans - Rui Hachimura - Thomas Bryant was the league’s very best on offense.

And worst on defense.

Outscoring the Wizards will be the perogative and the Pelicans have more than enough horses to do so. Jrue Holiday should cancel out some of Bradley Beal’s effectiveness and that leaves a woefully undermanned Wizards unit a tall task to overcome.

Phoenix (26-39)

Against .500+ teams: 7-21

The Pelicans have split the season series with the Phoenix Suns thus far 1-1, but their loss on December 5th was quite disappointing. Devin Booker individually decimated the Pelicans to the tune of 44 points, nine assists and eight rebounds on just 23 shots.

And that was with Jrue Holiday playing 41 minutes.

Of course, the Pelicans were without Zion Williamson and Derrick Favors, often the case during the first few months, but the Suns match lacked Aron Baynes and DeAndre Ayton.

If the two face one another again, the Pelicans cannot suffer a lapse against a team they should beat.

Philadelphia (39-26)

Against .500+ teams: 12-18

The Pelicans should want no part of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The matchup is problematic for the Pelicans. When fully engaged, Embiid is inarguably one of the NBA’s five best players on both ends of the floor. If there is anyone who can mitigate the Zion effect, it could be Embiid. Likewise, Simmons might be ideally suited to guard the man selected one spot behind him in Ingram. And Tobias Harris’s ability to pick-and-pop will make a difficult cover on the other end. Matisse Thybulle has already emerged as one of the best wing defenders. Josh Richardson is a feisty cover and a relentless defender. Overall, Philly’s defense is sixth-best in rating.

For all of the ‘fit’ questions the 76ers have faced, their starting unit is still 8.6 points better than opponents per 100 possessions. The Pelicans lost by just seven in their lone matchup in early December, albeit once again with Favors or Zion. Still, if they can avoid a matchup and capitalize on teams in the thick of the race for the eighth seed, it would be of benefit.

What do the Pelicans need to do?

If the Pelicans have any hope of securing the eighth seed and avoiding single elimination, they’ll need emerge victorious in both matchups with Memphis. They’ll still need to win four more games than Memphis. So a 6-2 record would be the minimum to be able to pull it off and that’s still banking on a subpar 2-6 record for Memphis.

To earn the ninth seed, New Orleans needs to outpace San Antonio, Portland and Sacramento. The Spurs and Kings easy schedules are boosted by multiple matchups with the Pelicans. The Blazers and Suns face two of the five hardest remaining strengths of schedule.

Also, it will be curious to see if tiebreakers come into play. The Pelicans currently possess one over the Trail Blazers thanks to a 4-0 season sweep. That would come as a huge advantage as Portland should be New Orleans most significant threat for the ninth seed, with the expected healthy returns of Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic.

The Pelicans should have a number of advantages. Potentially winning just five of these eight remaining games should be enough to trigger a play-in game, but it still requires that the Grizzlies not win more than five games themselves. The Pelicans must stay within four games to trigger the play-in.

Questions? Drop ‘em below. We also explain in much further detail in our podcast below.

Let’s geaux, Pels!