New Orleans Pelicans Playoffs Hopes Are Legitimate

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The Golden State Warriors are the class of the Western Conference and the Houston Rockets are their greatest threat.

The Warriors have won the last three Western Conference Finals and Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and company are trying for their third NBA championship in the last four seasons.

Meanwhile, all the Rockets have done is win six of their last seven games, each by 15 points or more. Nobody has scored more points per game, dished out more assists per game and made more three-pointers this season than MVP favorite James Harden. But it is the additions of Chris PaulLuc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker that have the Rockets currently on top of the West by a half-game over Golden State entering Saturday.

By no means are the New Orleans Pelicans currently in the same tier as those two superpowers. But this Pelicans squad has all the pieces to challenge the Warriors and Rockets when the playoffs begin.

New Orleans Pelicans Playoffs Hopes Are Legitimate

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After starting the season 3-5, the Pelicans have won eight of their last 12 games, including a 115-91 road win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday.

At 11-9, the Pelicans are right in the mix for a higher seed in the West. Even in the midst of their mediocre start, New Orleans beat the Cavaliers by 22 and only lost to Golden State by eight and the Minnesota Timberwolves by six.

New Orleans has taken advantage of a soft schedule during its current stretch, but head coach but before handling the Suns, Alvin Gentry’s team earned back-to-back signature blowout wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs. The Thunder may have struggled so far this season but once their big three figure it out, OKC will be one of the best in the West.

There are plenty of individual and team trends to like about the Pelicans.

Ferocious Frontcourt

Two of the best big man and quite possibly two of the top 10 best players in the league play on the same team.

Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are jelling together arguably have made up the best frontcourt in the NBA this season.

Entering Saturday, Cousins was fifth in points per game (26.1), fourth in rebounds per game (12.9). Anthony Davis is not far behind, ranking seventh in points per game (25.8) and ninth in rebounds per game (11.1). Both came in averaging a double-double. Cousins has recorded 15 double-doubles (points and rebounds) this season and Davis has now contributed 14.

Cousins has scored 30-plus points in a game six times and Davis has done that seven times. On top of that, Cousins came in ranked 23rd in the NBA in three-pointers made and he is 19th in assists per game (5.4). Davis can also pass the ball well and shoot from deep for a big man.

Both of them can do it all and should scare other teams.

Team Trends

The Pelicans have done a lot of things well.

Extra Passes: Part of what has made the Warriors so good is their unselfishness. They are willing to make the extra pass and currently lead the league in assists per game. The Pelicans are not afraid to make the extra pass. The Pelicans rank third in assists per game (26.1).

Sharp Shooting: The Warriors are on top of the NBA in most offensive categories, including field goal percentage. The Pelicans are not that far behind at 48.1 percent.

Rebounding: The Warriors are ahead of the Pelicans in rebounds per game but New Orleans is not that far behind, averaging 44.2 boards per game.

Paint Presence: Only the Los Angeles Lakers (52.3) have scored a higher percentage of their points per game in the paint than the Pelicans (48.9).

At 104.8, the Pelicans rank ninth in the league in Defensive Rating but they hung with the Warriors at both ends of the floor for the majority of Saturday’s game.

Bottom Line

Obviously, there is a lot left to be desired for the Pelicans. They are not on par with the Warriors.

But even with the loss to the Warriors, the Pelicans hung with Golden State for most of the game and with a win, would have only been two games back in the West.

The Pelicans did beat a Kawai Leonard-less Spurs team but the Pelicans dominated enough that one player would have probably not made the difference.

One of the biggest issues for most of the season was finding consistent three-point shooting. But the Pelicans have found a three-point shooter in Darius Miller (47.1 percent), who I believe is the team’s X-factor, and they have been shooting better from beyond the arc as a team.

When the Pelicans are playing their best basketball, they are the best option, outside of maybe the Spurs, to challenge the Warriors and Rockets.

Right now the Pelicans need to be more consistent and close quarters and games better against teams like Golden State.

But while Saturday’s game against the Warriors may have gotten away quickly, but New Orleans hung with Golden State and that is something because the Warriors have been taking it to their opponents all season.

 

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