In all my time writing this weekly recap of the Southwest Division, I’ve touched on every team at least once (and my Mavericks twice because… fandom). Every team except the New Orleans Pelicans. Because when the division consists of four teams which can make some noise in the playoffs and one that’s stumbling around in the middle of the league, of course you pay more attention to the ones making an impact.
Guess what though, the Pelicans are starting to make an impact.
Right now, the Pelicans are right on the cusp of the playoffs. They are a half-game back of the Thunder, and are essentially in a bloody slugfest with them, each taking turns grabbing the eighth seed.
Really, they’ve been the biggest beneficiaries of OKC’s injury troubles (and, to a lesser extent, Phoenix’s perplexing offseason moves). Just look at the teams in playoff seedings in the West right now. Even a casual fan could have predicted those teams making it into the postseason, with the only question being the final seedings. But, because of the Thunder’s extremely bad luck, the Pels are in with a helluva shot.
But that’s not to say they don’t deserve credit! Somehow, they’re managed this despite suffering injuries to key players all year round. Jrue Holiday has been out since the middle of January and has only managed 37 games this season and Eric Gordon has clocked only 46 games and continues to be known more for his contract than his on-court abilities.
Tyreke has been the only one of their top players who hasn’t fallen prey to the injury bug, but I don’t think the phrase ‘Tyreke Evans is your team’s number one option’ ever inspired confidence in anyone. Add the fact that Ryan Anderson is now more of a rich man’s Andrea Bargnani than a poor man’s Dirk Nowitzki, and it’s pretty amazing that they find themselves where they are. Without the injuries they’ve suffered, they could be in complete control of the eighth seed right now.
This team, even at full strength, isn’t that great. Yet somehow, they’ve managed to get by, even posting a 10-5 record since the All-Star break. If they were in the East they would have probably elbowed their way into the sixth seed by now. In fact, if they were in the East, they WOULD be the sixth seed.
I suppose it helps that they have an unstoppable alien on their roster:
HOLY MOLEY GOD ALMIGHTY.
We are CLEARLY not giving AD the attention he deserves. His averages of 25 points, 10 boards, 3 blocks are remarkable, and he throws in his fair share of assists and steals (2 and 1.5 per game, respectively) too. And this is him playing on a team with mismatched parts and a bench whose best player is probably Norris Cole. Without The Brow, this Pelicans team would probably be just good enough to give themselves a bad lottery pick.
The future’s bright too; they may be able to make some moves real soon. Gordon’s contract is a big one, and he has a player option for next season, which will be exercised faster than you can say ‘Suns!’, but that would be the final year of his contract, making him much more palatable in trades. And who knows, contract-year Eric might play so well the Pelicans might actually get something good in return for him.
Additionally, the Pelicans don’t have anyone on the books beyond next season other than Tyreke, Jrue and the highly-affordable Quincy Pondexter. Coupled with the fact that the salary cap is about to explode, this means that they will almost literally be able to build a whole new team, completely around AD.
For now though, they’ll continue to go head to head with the Thunder. We’ll see if they can keep flying above the Thunderclouds.
The Memphis Grizzlies had a mixed week, going 2-3 during a stretch where they could have easily gone 4-1 or even 5-0. I mean, their opponents were Boston, Washington, Milwaukee, Denver and Detroit. Not a good look.
The Rockets have taken advantage of the Grizzlies’ struggles, and a 3-2 week sees them climb to within a game of Memphis and the two-seed. Highlight of the week: a Harden explosion for a career-high 50 points against Denver:
The Mavericks turn things around a little, going on a three-game winning streak with wins over the Clippers and the Thunder before taking out Orlando. I’m still not completely convinced, because all these wins came with huge asterisks. The Clippers are still without Blake Griffin, OKC didn’t have Kevin Durant, and we almost gave up a 22-point lead before sealing the deal against a young Magic side still developing and finding their feet. The Grizzlies are up next and should prove to be a much sterner test.
San Antonio went 2-2, which isn’t great on its own, but they somehow contrived to lose to the godawful Knicks, allowing something called a Langston Galloway to hang 22 points on them. But I’m sure it’s just a blip in the big picture.
Lastly, the Pelicans finished 1-2 after a couple of 4-1 weeks. They’ll need to be at their very best if they want to keep pushing for the last playoff spot in the West; they have the Warriors, Clippers and Rockets coming up in quick succession.