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The Big Time

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Published: April 15, 2015

You couldn’t have drawn up a better script. One game, for all the marbles (sort of.) It is the basketball equivalent of the final game in the film Major League. If the Pelicans win, with their weird theme music, ragtag crew and eccentric fans; against the epitome of a dynasty in the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, they’ll advance to the playoffs (and hopefully the Pels are smart enough not to sign Omar Epps for next season). The Spurs are the hottest team in basketball, having won 11 straight, and having gone 21-3 since February 27th and 14-1 against the West in that span. They have won five titles in 15 years. To get to the playoffs, the Pelicans will need to earn it tonight.

Today’s game will be the biggest game the Pelicans have played since Chris Paul led the New Orleans Hornets to a surprisingly contentious series against the Los Angeles Lakers in round 1 of the 2010-11 playoffs. Unlike that team, whose future seemed unclear, except for the fact that they were probably on a downward slope, these Pelicans, are on the upswing.

But part of the reason this season has to be viewed as a success, is that we have and (one more time) will see how this team responds to pressure situations. They’ve played many big games over this season, to the point where Anthony Davis called the win against the Warriors a “Good win, not a big win.” And that’s as big a regular season win as you’re going to have. But this game is different. A win against the Spurs, would be a big win. It’s the biggest kind of win you can have in the regular season.

All their stepping stone victories to clinch a playoff berth, the meaning they hold, will balloon with a win tonight. Davis’ buzzer beater against this very same Spurs team, the double-clutch three pointer from downtown Oklahoma City, the defensive stop that snapped the losing streak against the Dallas Mavericks, the in-and-out against the Milwaukee Bucks after a missed switch, and the Golden State Warriors “scrimmage” game. All those games will mean more, if the Pelicans win tonight and make the playoffs. They won’t be meaningless if the Pelicans lose, but if they win, they become part of the storybook season that led Davis to his first playoff berth. It will allow all those moments to be magic, like when the Charlotte Hornets saw Alonzo Mourning hit a three-pointer to win a playoff game. Or when Dwyane Wade made a game-winning shot against the Hornets in his first ever playoff game, effectively letting everyone know he was going to be a bad man for the next decade plus. These kind of transcendental moments can be great building blocks, especially if the team advances tonight.

This team doesn’t have a single player over the age of 28 on its roster. This team has seen Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, and Davis all miss over 10 games each. But they still remain a playoff team.  The Pelicans may not play a game as intense as tonight’s game will be, even if they make the playoffs. They will be playing at home against the defending NBA champions, a team that has the perfect offense to eviscerate the Pelicans’ defense. Yet the Pelicans have won two of three this year against the Spurs, without a single game being decided by more than seven points. Two of the games were decided by a combined three points.

The Spurs will be playing for the No. 2 seed, and are not expected to rest the entire team, as some dreamed and wished of while sipping on Sazeracs and Strawberry Abitas in March. For the Pelicans to clinch a playoff spot for the first time in four years, for the first time in Anthony Davis’ career, they will need to earn it on the last night. Davis versus Tim Duncan. Spurs coach Greg Popovich versus a former pupil in Monty Williams. The old-guard vs. a hopeful new contender. It is the kind of game that you dream of, when a little kid, shooting with your brothers and friends, counting down the seconds to an imaginary clock, hoping to nail “the shot” one day, pose left hanging, as if a reincarnation of Jordan. It’s the kind of game that the Pelicans want to partake in. And they’ll do it against the best. If the Pels win, they’ll advance, and have earned it beyond reproach. If they lose, they’ll end the season having known they’ve taken and given great shots, and are on the cusp on something great themselves. This is the kind of game that makes you enjoy having a team as a city. The game that makes you wake up feeling the energy. That you feel in your bones before you even step foot out on the court. This is the game that makes careers and organizations. I dare you to look away. I know I won’t.

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