When I was a child, performing some household chore in a seemingly inefficient manner, my stepdad would glower at me and say, “Boy, you’re digging a canal with a toothpick.” And though I never asked him to elaborate on the phrase, I think it’s pretty simple: I shouldn’t waste my time doing something in a way that won’t necessarily produce results. And if he knew the premise of this article, he’d probably say it again.
“Boy, you’re digging a canal with a toothpick. It’s too early to preview playoff matchups.”
It probably is. As of this morning, the Pelicans currently sit in the fifth seed of the Western Conference Playoffs, but they have not yet mathematically clinched a playoff spot. And with a daunting schedule coming up, this article may age worse than your instant messenger screen name in middle school. But the magic number is getting smaller and smaller, and with the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves losing last night, the Pelicans are getting closer to late April basketball for the first time since 2015. So I thought it may be a good idea to analyze one of the teams the Pelicans may potentially play.
Most playoff projections have the Pelicans anywhere between the 6th and 8th seed. And since my buddy Jermaine did a great job two weeks ago in analyzing the matchups against the Thunder, Blazers, and Wolves, I figured I would pick another team, a team on paper most Pelicans fans wouldn’t be excited to face. If the Pelicans end up in the 7th seed, they will once again be facing the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs.
Now, if you were to ask me before the season, “Raby, how can the Pelicans knock off the Warriors in a playoff series?” I would’ve looked around the room for a pair of bifocals, found one, put them at the edge of my nose, and sneered at you as I muttered, “The Warriors would have to lose Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green to a grease fire incident.” And that’s exactly what happened.
Fine, not exactly what happened. No grease fire, but Curry suffered an MCL sprain that will almost certainly sideline him for the first round of the playoffs. And the other stars have all had their share of injuries that may hamper them if not cause them to miss games. So while before facing the Warriors seemed like a suicidal prospect, now the matchup may look a little more inviting.
The Warriors have handled the Pelicans easily in their first three matchups, but if we’re looking at a potential playoff matchup, those games may as well have been played on the moon. Curry played in all three games, as did DeMarcus Cousins. It is worth noting that the Pelicans won all three first quarters in those games, and led after halftime in two of them. That stat is important even with these differing rosters, because playing the Warriors is a test of endurance.
You can get a strong start against them, but third and fourth quarters is where this team shines. Golden State outscores its opponents by an average of five points in the third quarter, best in the league. And part of that attack is the threat of fast threes by Durant, Thompson, and Curry. And even though Durant and Thompson will be on the court, the gravity that Curry provides is what allows the others to get clean shots up. Durant and Thompson can still be deadly, but they may be easier to manage without worrying about 30 from 30 feet.
In a little less than two weeks, the Pelicans will play their final game against Golden State, and this will be the best game to see how they match up with the Warriors as currently constructed. As they battle injuries, the Warriors are 6-5 in March and have gone 3-5 since their seven game win streak was snapped. And with the Pelicans fighting for position in the playoffs, I’m sure the team will be playing as if it is a playoff atmosphere as well.
Am I saying the Pelicans should pull a 2010 Memphis Grizzlies and tank for seeding to face a weak higher seed? Of course not. The Warriors still have great coaching, the second best player in the league, and enough weapons to give the Pelicans fits. But let’s be real. It’s fun to be sitting here at the end of March, talking about the Pelicans in the playoffs, possibly against the defending champs, and not be dismissing it as an easy loss.
We’re weeks away from playoff basketball in New Orleans, people. It’s time to get excited.