Sleeper Playoff Teams (Pelicans Edition)
Currently, in the NBA, there are a few sleeper playoff teams who could make something big happen going down the stretch.
Current eight seeds: Orlando Magic (28-35), Memphis Grizzlies (31-32)
The teams so far that I think could take the last spot are the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, and the San Antonio Spurs. The only team in the Eastern Conference I think that could maybe get hot enough to beat the Magic out are the Washington Wizards. Here we are going to look at the situation for the Pelicans and scenarios for them to make the playoffs.
New Orleans Pelicans:
The Pelicans, who are currently four games behind the Grizzlies, are playing some great ball with Zion Williamson back. Winning six of their last eight games, New Orleans is looking to continue to win and get that eighth seed. Brandon Ingram and Zion have both shown their full potential together when on the court. If their dominance continues, don’t be surprised to see them pass the Grizz in the end. Memphis and the Pels have two games remaining against each other, and both will be huge games for not just those two, but the other contenders as well. New Orleans is currently 11th in the Western Conference, with the Sacramento Kings and the Portland Trail Blazers ahead of them in the race for the eighth seed.
When you look at the strength of schedule remaining, the Pelicans have the easiest schedule remaining in the NBA. Although they have the easiest remaining schedule, they still have to play the Spurs, Kings, and Grizzlies, a combined seven times for the rest of the year. Winning those games will not only help them get the eight seed, but it will also give an L to their opponents who are also in the hunt. The Pels are just half a game behind the nine seed spot, with the Blazers currently owning it.
One thing that will make it harder for the Pelicans though, is that Mr. Lillard is back on the court. Even though New Orleans doesn’t play them for the rest of the year, Dame’s presence could propel Portland to late game wins, making it even harder for New Orleans to make the playoffs.
JJ Reddick has also been missing some time due to injury lately. Reddick, the best 3-point shooter for the Pelicans, is averaging about 15 points per game, on 45.2% shooting from beyond the arc. Once the Pelicans get him back, expect to see more points on the board and some major help on the offensive end.
The key to success here for New Orleans is to be able to win clutch games. When you play teams like the Grizzlies, Spurs, and Kings, you have to find a way to come out with a win to show that you are worthy of being in the playoffs. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Pelicans are a young team. Zion, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball are all still under the age of 23. But, they are still a team that wants a playoff spot this year. Winning clutch games will mean more than an average game going down the stretch. If this team can’t beat any team below the eight seed in the Western Conference, I don’t think that they are a playoff team. Their next big game is Wednesday in Sacramento, where they will be going up against a much-improved Kings team on ESPN. We’ll see how they can perform against another fellow team pushing for a playoff spot.
Top Photo by Getty Images from forbes.com