Pelicans Scoop – The Final Playoff Push

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Published: April 11, 2015

Some of the Bourbon Street Shots writers discuss five key questions heading into the Pelicans’ final three games of the regular season, tied with the Thunder for the 8th and final playoff spot.

 

1) Other than Anthony Davis, who has been the biggest key to the Pelicans’ recent push to sneak into the playoffs?

Mason Ginsberg: Cases to be made for a few guys here, but I’m going with Omer Asik. Over the past 5 weeks (17 games), the Pelicans have a higher net rating with Asik on the court (+7.5 points per 100 possessions) than with of any of the team’s other key rotation players – yes, that also includes Davis. Even though Asik is typically regarded as a detriment to the Pelicans’ offense, they have still scored over 107 points per 100 possessions with him on the court in that stretch.

Graham McQueen: QPon, since the 1st of March (21 games) he has .650 TS%, ORtg of 120 while getting tough matchups on D. This guy was finding it tough to get into Memphis’ rotation.  Demps turned Austin Rivers into a 30 minute a night 3pt shooting SF.

Michael Pellissier: I can single out two guys: Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca.  Since the All-Star break, nearly every single Pelicans player has has a positive Net Rating on the court, which is kind of amazing given our depth problems before Dell’s in-season trades.  Asik has been tremendous on defense and Ajinca’s post game was huge at a time when offensive firepower was very much needed.

Michael McNamara: I think it is Omer Asik, simply because the Pelicans biggest jump recently has been on the defensive end, and he is our defensive anchor. He has stabilized us somewhat on that side of the ball, and he is also giving the Pels some solid offense, which is always gravy. Since the AS break, he is giving the Pels 8.1 points per game on less than 6 shots, which is hyper efficient.

Jason Calmes: Asik. This team has been a sieve on the perimeter. A lesser defender inside would be getting wrecked by guards. Asik helps keep games in reach. This is been my drum since before the season started, and the beat goes on.

Chris Romaguera: Tyreke Evans. It’s hard to find a lot of people who would have thought the Pelicans would be contending for a playoff spot with Jrue Holiday gone. Evans is not a point guard, but how he held down the position was admirable. After Holiday went down, Evans saw his field goal percentage jump to 46% from 42.9, 32.3% from 27.4% from beyond the arc, and saw his assists jump to 7.7 per game from 5.3. All very impressive, and allowing the Pelicans to go on multiple runs to be in the position they are in now.

 

2) From now until the end of the regular season, which Pelicans player (again, other than Anthony Davis) is most important to the team’s playoff hopes?

MG: Omer Asik, & it’s not close. The Pelicans’ remaining opponents feature James Harden & Tony Parker, both guys who are among the league’s top 10 players in drives to the rim per game (minimum 30 games played). And that’s before you even start to consider guys like Dwight Howard and Tim Duncan. Asik’s interior defense could make or break the Pelicans’ playoff hopes.

GM:  I want to say Omer as well but for the sake of adding to the discussion, I’ll say Eric Gordon.  For the first half of the season (and longer) the Pelicans were a .500 basketball team.  Many things helped change that, like the mid season additions, but one huge reason is Eric’s return from injury and finding a role on this team that he can succeed in.  I used to cringe when he got the ball but now I just want him the jack it up from deep every time because I know it is good more often than not.

MP: I’ll agree with Mason here–it’s Asik.  I don’t think people realize how many positive defensive plays he makes a game.  Of the 30-40 (or however many) pick/rolls he defends a game, he plays them to perfection 95% of the time.  An offensive reset doesn’t count in the stat sheet, but he’s behind a ton of them because opponents fail in their initial offensive action (because of Asik).  His defense will be crucial down the stretch vs. some excellent guards and bigs.

MM: Looking at the schedule, I am going to say Tyreke Evans. Assuming that we have to beat either Houston or San Antonio to get in, Tyreke is going to have to get hot in at least one of those games. Each of those teams have bigs that can frustrate AD, so Tyreke is going to have to go for 25+ in one of those games. If not Tyreke, then Eric Gordon.

JC: Asik. Dance with who brung ya.

CR: Omer Asik. The Pelicans need Asik to control the paint as much as possible, as well as own the glass, in order to pull off the necessary wins to advance. In the Pelicans’ last game against Houston, the Rockets took 50 shots in the paint in a two-point loss. In wins, Asik is averaging 8.2 points per game, along with 10.5 rebounds and shooting 58.4% from the field. The Pels need that version of Asik to advance.

3) In a potential Warriors vs. Pelicans playoff series, how many games do you expect New Orleans to win? What is the percent chance that they can pull off the miraculous upset?

MG: One, but you could convince me they may steal a second, especially with Jrue returning. I’ll give the Pelicans about a 5% chance to upset the Warriors.

GM: Despite people like Charles Barkley’s doubts about jump shooting teams in the playoffs, I think the Pelicans have no chance at the upset, but they do have a chance to take one or two games.  This is the NBA, 8 over 1 doesn’t happen, especially if the 8 is by far the least experienced in the conference.  But what is important is that experience, post season experience leads to post season success, the longer the Pelicans can stretch this series out, the better we will be next year.

MP:  By Net Rating, Golden State has been one of the best regular season teams in the last 30-40 years, so the chances of us, a fringe playoff team, beating them are extremely low.  The only chance the Pels have is if someone (maybe even multiple people) on the Warriors goes down with an injury.  That said, I think New Orleans will win one of their two at home and that the Warriors will win the series in 5 games.  Anything better than that is gravy.

MM: With Holiday back, I think they can win Games 3 and 4 at home. The odds they can win a series? Probably the same odds that Stephen Curry gets hurt, so I would say about 2%.

JC: 1 game. I’ll call Game 3. In a straight, no drama series, 7%, and that may be generous.

CR: Fine, I’ll bite. I think the Pelicans can maybe push this series a bit, possibly winning three games or the series if the ball bounces right. The Warriors haven’t seen much adversity throughout this season, and don’t have very much playoff experience. You can draw parallels to the ’07 Dallas Mavericks playoff run if you’d like (and pull a “Time is a flat circle” moment when you bring up that the Golden State Warriors defeated that team.) Holiday and Norris Cole may be the most lethal defensive point guard duo in the league. Draymond Green cannot stop Anthony Davis, and that may drive him crazy. I’m personally going to live-tweet every Harrison Barnes miss from downtown, and every time Klay Thompson doesn’t penetrate into the paint. Not to pull a full Lloyd Christmas here, but I’m saying there is a chance. Win 3 games, 40/60 they pull off the upset.

4) Looking at the teams who are essentially already in the playoffs in the Western Conference, would you take the Pelicans in a 7 game series against any of them right now? If so, who?

MG: As long as the Mavericks keep playing the Rondo/Ellis back court together for so many minutes, I’ll take the Pelicans over them. Apart from Dallas, it’s really difficult to say with a high level of confidence that New Orleans would beat any other current Western Conference playoff team in a 7-game series. Now, that Eastern Conference, on the other hand…

GM: If I had to pick the best matchup, I would stay in division and go Rockets or Mavericks.  I think they matchup pretty well against Houston and have played them pretty evenly this year.  They have some injury issues (without Beverly I am much more confident in our guards) and though Dwight Howard has returned that team is still all James Harden, and one man wrecking crews don’t win in the playoffs.  I’d also take Dallas simply because I hate Dallas but love to play them, it is always a great game.  They haven’t really gotten into form  in months, and though that doesn’t normally carry over into the playoffs for experienced and well coaches teams, they are certainly not playing their best.

MP: Only 8 teams have posted a better Net Rating than the Pelicans since the All-Star Break, but as Tom Haberstroh detailed last year, “momentum” is something that we likely overestimate as a factor going into the playoffs. I’m someone who strongly believes in experience come playoff time, so if the talent gap/matchup doesn’t overwhelmingly favor the Pelicans, I’m taking the more experienced team. I think the Warriors, Clippers, and Spurs would beat us in 5. I think we could steal 2 versus the Rockets and the Blazers.  We have matched up so well vs. the Grizzlies (before the recent debacle) that I think it’s possible we could beat them, but I’d still bet on them if I had to make an objective call.  Finally, I have no earthly clue as to what to think of the Mavericks.  They’ve been horrible recently, but they have plenty of players who’ve gone the distance before.

MM: I would take the Pelicans in a 7 game series over the Grizzlies and Mavericks right now. Memphis is not the same team that got out to that red hot start, and the Mavs have been a mess since the Rondo acquisition. Carlisle scares me a bit, as does Monta Ellis, so I think that series goes to 7, but I think we could take the Grizzlies in 6. And now that I think about it, give me the Rockets without Montiejunas and Beverly too!!

JC: (I hate the) Mavericks. Memphis, especially if their injury issues do not right themselves.

CR: The Mavericks are the easy one, with their recent struggles. But I’ll also point to the Grizzlies if they aren’t on full NBA Jams mode like they were last Wednesday (commence sad watch party photo.) The Portland Trailblazers, with their injury woes (since I’ve written this, they may have lost another shooting guard) seems like the team most of the West are circling like vultures too.

5) If the Pelicans get into the playoffs by one game, which game will you look back upon as the one that made the difference?

MG: It’s hard for me not to pick that series clinching road victory over Oklahoma City, headlined by Anthony Davis’ incredible game-winning 3-pointer that will be replayed throughout the rest of his career. It was a game that few expected the Pelicans to win – OKC’s entire “big three” played, and Westbrook and Durant combined for 75 points). Nonetheless, New Orleans got the job done, and earned themselves a huge boost in the Western Conference playoff race.

GM:  Has to be the Anthony Davis double clutch game winner against OKC.  It is just the perfect moment, a defining moment in the career of Anthony Davis and a season defining moment for this young team.  You can point to any game down the stretch like the Warriors win but knowing that New Orleans held the tie breaker over their opposition for the 8th spot was a huge source of inspiration, even as the team fell over 3 games behind at one point.

MP: This is the “easy” answer, but I’ll pick the win vs. Golden State.  They have been the best team in basketball and I didn’t think we would beat them, even though we were playing at home.  A huge win and one that I think will stick in our minds for a good while.

MM: For me it will be the Bucks game at home. Ilyasova has a point blank look to win the game for Milwaukee and misses. People talk all the time about the “games we should have won”, but that is a game we should have lost. If we get in by one game, that will be the one I am thankful for.

JC: Pelicans over Toronto, 95-93. No Davis, no Holiday, Ryno played poorly. Quincy was fresh, and the team needed a boost. Toronto was hot, but Pelicans got the win to get back to 0.500. Sandwiched between losses to the Knicks and Sixers, a loss could have been crippling. They won 7 of the next 10, and that includes the immediate loss to the Knicks.

CR: The OKC Thunder double pump will always be the Disney moment if the Pelicans make it. The “Major League” moment where the Pels make it to the playoffs will be the Golden State Warriors game. But the one that sticks with me is the January 25th victory over the Dallas Mavericks. It was the Pelicans biggest win of the season at the time, less than two weeks after Holiday went down with an injury. It snapped a 9-game losing streak against a Dallas Mavericks team that had been bullying the Pelicans for years. It was the Pelicans first three-game winning streak of the season. Huge perfomances by Davis, Asik, and Evans, who all had double-doubles. A close game won of a defensive play was the first time the playoffs started to really feel possible in 2015 for the Pelicans. Davis was so excited he tackled a fan. It was a great moment, and a bit of a stepping stone for this team.

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