Pelicans relish opportunity to be in the hunt

Hazel Ann Doucet
April 15, 2015
Local legislators tackle abortion, transportation, array of other topics
April 15, 2015
Hazel Ann Doucet
April 15, 2015
Local legislators tackle abortion, transportation, array of other topics
April 15, 2015

No one yet knows whether the New Orleans Pelicans will make the playoffs. That fact will likely be decided tonight in the final game of the NBAs regular season.

But one thing is for sure – both players and coaches are surely enjoying just being back in the thick of things in the brutally tough Western Conference standings.

For New Orleans, the fight for the Western Conference playoffs continued on Monday night when they took on Minnesota with no score at press-time. The chase will wrap up tonight against San Antonio at the Smoothie King Center.

Win, lose or draw, after several-straight seasons of losing seasons, Pels’ players tout that they’re grateful to be in the chase again – a position that has eluded the team in every season of Anthony Davis’ young career.

“It’s been an exciting last couple of weeks,” Pelicans’ forward Tyreke Evans said. “It’s almost like the playoffs have already started in a way, you know, because we are already in a situation to where we have to win to be able to advance and see some more games. It’s up to us to keep that push going and to put ourselves in a position to get ourselves into the field.”

This New Orleans playoff push never seemed realistic in the preseason – even to the most loyal and gullible fans.

That’s because the Pels compete in the brutally difficult Western Conference where the lion’s share of powerhouses in the league compete – including tonight’s foe, the Spurs, who are the defending NBA Champions.

What has made the underdog story even more unlikely was the fact that the team was only slightly ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder all season, despite All-Star forward Kevin Durant being out with an injury. Most pundits and media types presumed that the Pels would succumb to the Thunder’s prowess once Durant returned, and thus, drop out of the playoff race.

But Durant never got healthy. In fact, he is now out for the season after undergoing another surgery on his foot.

That opened a crack in the door for the Pels – one through which the team has burst open.

New Orleans was 20-21 in the first half of the season, but they’ve since responded with a 23-15 push to clinch a winning season and keep the team’s hopes alive. The Pels won four of their first six games in April.

“I think that we’ve gotten healthier and we’ve played overall better basketball,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “I think we’ve had guys get back, which has allowed us to be deeper. And that all has really allowed us to put this all in place.”

Having power forward Anthony Davis helps, as well.

The 2014-15 NBA season has been an absolute breakout party for Davis, who has firmly solidified himself as one of the top statistical players in the entire NBA. The 22-year-old phenom averages 24.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game for New Orleans – all while generating an NBA-best 30.78 player efficiency rating.

The former Kentucky “one and done”, Davis has shown the ability to score both in the paint and out on the perimeter.

Defensively, Davis is a brick wall, leading the NBA in blocks. That doesn’t even count the dozens of shots that Davis doesn’t block in a game, but alters because of his size and wing span.

Because of the versatility, the unibrowed superstar is one of the favorites to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

“He’s incredible,” Pels’ guard Eric Gordon said. “Every night, he does something that just blows your mind like, ‘How on earth did he just do that?’ But that’s (Davis). And he’s still evolving and growing. He’s still getting better and better. When he reaches his peak and becomes that finished product, man, it’s going to be frightening how good he can be as a basketball player.”

If New Orleans does indeed squeak into the postseason, their task would not be an easy one.

The only seed that the Pelicans can obtain in the Western Conference bracket is No. 8, which means that New Orleans would be guaranteed to play No. 1 in the first round.

That title belongs to the Golden State Warriors, who have owned the NBAs best record throughout the entire season.

But for as dominant as the Warriors have been, New Orleans has had incremental success against the powerhouse.

In December, the Pels led Golden State for most-all of their meeting before falling in the final minutes of the game and eventually losing in overtime.

A few weeks ago, New Orleans was in the same spot, but this time they closed the deal and scored a 103-100 victory.

Following that game, Davis said he was inspired to perform because he believed that Golden State’s players overlooked New Orleans and chalked the team up as an “easy win”.

In the playoffs, that wouldn’t be the case and both teams would be hyped up and ready to roll to continue the quest for the coveted NBA Championship.

An underdog still, yes.

But just to be in the fight at all has the team grateful.

That’s a whole heck of a lot better than the team has been able to do in any of the past several years.

“We’re going to just keep playing,” Davis said. “We want to take it one game at a time and see what position we can put ourselves in. On any night, we feel like we can play with, and beat anybody.”

New Orleans Pelicans’ forward Anthony Davis makes a move toward the bucket during a game this season. The dominant power forward has been a driving force in leading New Orleans to the final week of the season with a chance at competing in the playoffs. New Orleans was tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder at press-time for the No. 8 and final spot in the NBA’s Western Conference Playoffs. The winner will face No. 1 Golden State Warriors.