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New Orleans Pelicans Lightning Round Preview

Where Things Stood: The New Orleans Pelicans’ breathtakingly talented young core recovered from a 13-game losing streak ending in December to now only being 3.5 games back from the 8th seed. Before the Pelicans’ 2019-2020 season was put on pause in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Orleans had a record of 28-36. However, the Pelicans had been a very good 22-16 since December 18, 2019, led by the pairing of 19-year old rookie phenom Zion Williamson and 22-year old breakout superstar Brandon Ingram.

What’s Coming Up: The Pelicans are 3.5 games back from the 8th seed Memphis Grizzlies (32-33) and will have eight games to grab that last playoff spot. If the Pelicans manage to sneak into the playoffs, they would play the 1st seed Los Angeles Lakers (49-14) in the first round. LeBron James and Anthony Davis on a court with Zion and Ingram is an exciting generational battle between veteran superstars and the youth that will eventually replace them on their pedestal. It will most likely end with a Lakers’ victory.

Game 1: Utah Jazz – The Jazz are 4th seed in the West with a 41-23 record and will be a tough matchup for Pelicans. Utah is 2-1 against the Pelicans this season. If the Jazz has its full roster, this game becomes an early test for the Pelicans who have to win most of their eight games to have a shot at making the playoffs. Utah’s offensive core of Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanović are averaging a combined 44.4 points per game and defensively have one of the best centers in the NBA with Rudy Gobert.

Game 2: Los Angeles Clippers – The Clippers are the 2nd seed in the West with a 44-20 record and are the toughest matchup for the Pelicans these eight games. If there was any game the Pelicans should lose, it is this one. The Clips core of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George is just too filthy but it should be fun seeing them go up against Zion and Ingram. To the Pelicans credit, they did manage to squeeze one win from the Clippers in three games this season.

Game 3: Memphis Grizzlies – The Pelicans absolutely need to win this game against the 8th seed Grizzlies (32-33). The Pelicans are 2-0 against Memphis this season and a third win would bring New Orleans closer to the 8th seed. It will be hard for the Pelicans to make the playoffs if they lose this game against 20-year olds Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Game 4: Sacramento Kings – The Kings have the same record as the Pelicans at 28-36 and are also in the hunt for the 8th seed. The Pelicans beat the Kings in their only matchup this season. The Pelicans need to win their first of two matchups against the Kings with five games left in the season. De’Aron Fox and Buddy Hield have emerged as stars for Sacramento averaging a combined 40.2 points a night.

Game 5: Washington Wizards – The Wizards may be only the 9th seed in the East but they have had a bad season with a record of 24-40. The Pelicans have not faced off against the Wizards this season. This should be one of the easier matchups for the Pelicans, as this is the worst team in New Orleans’ schedule. Outside of superstar Bradley Beal, Washington does not have much going for them. Three-point shooter Dāvis Bertāns and rookie Rui Hachimura are their only other quality talent.

Game 6: San Antonio Spurs – The Spurs have not found success like they usually have this season with a record of 27-36. The 12th seed Spurs are four games behind the Grizzlies for the 8th seed but probably do not have enough time to easily overcome their deficit. LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t playing due to season-ending injury. The Pelicans should win this game against the depleted Spurs.

Game 7: Sacramento Kings – If the Kings and Pelicans split their two matchups, there is a decent chance neither will be able to surpass the Grizzlies. The Kings or Pelicans probably need to sweep their two matchups in order to have a real shot at making the playoffs.

Game 8: Orlando Magic – The Magic is firmly holding onto the 8th seed in the East with an unimpressive 30-35 record. The Magic beat the Pelicans in their only matchup this season. Nikola Vučević should have fun with the Pelicans down low averaging 19.5 points and 11 rebounds per game. The Pelicans need to win this game against a beatable opponent.

Prediction: The Pelicans cannot do any worse than 6-2 during their final eight games if they want a shot of overtaking the Grizzlies 3.5 game lead. Unless the Grizzlies lose all of their games, the Pelicans need to dominate to even have a chance. No team has more young untapped high upside talent than the Pelicans with Zion, Ingram, and Lonzo Ball. Their young talent surrounded by the underrated Jrue Holiday and three-point stud JJ Reddick makes New Orleans a really good team. If there is any team that can catch fire and finds their way into the playoffs, it is the Pelicans.

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For more thoughts and opinions from Zachary Diamond, check out his author-page or Twitter.

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