NBA Betting: Can the Pelicans Steal the Final Seed in the Western Conference?

The NBA's deadline for players to report to the league whether or not they are sitting out the league's restart has passed, and the race for the Western Conference's number 8 seed remains a two-team race. FanDuel Sportsbook sets odds for the Memphis Grizzlies at -165 to make the playoffs and +135 to miss the postseason. Along with a very tempting +360, you can gamble on the New Orleans Pelicans to steal the final spot in the West.

There will reportedly be eight regular-season games to form a play-in tournament between teams vying for seeding. The eighth and ninth seeds in both conferences have yet to be finalized and the Pelicans have a realistic shot at overthrowing the Grizzlies for the final playoff spot. Bleacher Report contributor Preston Ellis reported the Pelicans remaining schedule is likely to include the Clippers, the Grizzlies (twice), the Jazz, the Kings (twice), the Magic, and the Spurs.

The Pelicans are currently -450 favorites to miss the playoffs but have six games versus teams fighting for a playoff spot and five against Western Conference teams still playing for better seeding. Being 3.5-half games ahead is a tough task to ask the Grizzlies to blow, but luckily for the Pelicans, they get two shots at them, which could change everything.

Why New Orleans is a Good Bet?

The Pelicans have been one of the better offensive teams over the entire season -- but with the addition of Zion Williamson in the lineup -- they've led the league in points per game (120.1) since his arrival Jan. 22. New Orleans beat Memphis twice this season by an average of 19 points, once with Williamson and once without. Admittedly, it is tough to beat a team four times in a season, but the three-month break leaves the two sides on an even-keel.

The Pelicans' defense also improved drastically with Williamson in the fold, winning 10 of 19 games and holding opponents to worse shooting percentages. New Orleans has scored 120 points in nine of the last 19 games, but have allowed the sixth-most field goal attempts (91.0) on the sixth-most points per game (115.7). The Pelicans lead the league in assists per game (30.3), second in rebounds (49.6), and sixth in plus-minus (4.4) since Williamson joined the team.

With Zion46.1% (11th)33.4% (2nd)76.3% (9th)43.2 (10th)24.7 (13th)115.7 (24th)
W/o Zion46.8% (22nd)36.6% (23rd)79.0% (27th)45.9 (17th)24.4 (17th)117.1 (29th)

The number 8 seed will be a race, as the Grizzlies and Pelicans are two of the fastest-paced teams in the league. The Pelicans are second in pace factor per the Hollinger Index (106.4) compared to the Grizzlies, who rank sixth (105.4) on the season. Both of the team matchups were two of the highest-scoring games all season, reaching 242 and 250 points, with New Orleans winning both.

The Difference Makers

Brandon Ingram has been stellar for New Orleans, and in another article, I made a case for him to be named Most Improved Player this season. Both him and Williamson had strong showings versus Memphis this season, with Ingram averaging 22.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5 assists in two games, with Williamson adding 24 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists in one contest.

Williamson was efficient with the Pelicans, as he shot 50% or better from the field in 14-of-19 games, the third-most times among all rookies. Ja Morant accomplished that feat 17 times, as well as Kendrick Nunn, who did it 15 times -- both playing in 23 or more games. The Pelicans have six players recording double-digit points per game and seven individuals averaging over 20 minutes per game in 45 games or more -- eight if you count Zion's 29.7 minutes in 19 games.

Most of the NBA will be healthy for the restart, and both Memphis and New Orleans benefited from the time off. New Orleans rotation is only missing Darius Miller, and the Grizzlies are expecting Brandon Clarke back for a fully healthy roster. Memphis could be without Justise Winslow, who was quoted on his Instagram, saying it's "All About The Benjamins, baby" when referring to the league's restart amid COVID-19. There's still a chance more players sit out due to health concerns, and strong possibility individuals will have positive tests during league play as well.

New Orleans also gets back one of the most experienced playoff performers in J.J. Redick, after being sidelined with a hamstring injury. Redick has made the playoffs in 14-straight seasons, and he made it well known jokingly in an interview after joining the Pelicans, he plans on making it 15-consecutive. Williamson is reportedly in great shape, and if the Pelicans plan on making the push, a matchup versus LeBron James from the Los Angeles Lakers would be buzzworthy.

A Disney Duel

Ja Morant and Zion Williamson have undoubtedly lived up to the hype of being the first two overall picks of the 2019 NBA Draft. All eyes will be on the two rookies as they battle it out for the final playoff spot to face the favorite and number 1 seeded Lakers. Morant has undoubtedly won the Rookie of the Year Award, and FanDuel's -3000 odds suggest that. Williamson could end up stealing the spotlight, by surpassing the Grizzlies in the playoff race and beating them twice. It's only fitting that the two best rookies' first season come down to the last eight games with a chance to make playoffs over one another.

It will be a steep road for the Pelicans, but they're 5-5 versus the six rescheduled opponents, with a 3-0 record versus Memphis and Sacramento.

The Grizzlies' final schedule of opponents is significantly more demanding than the Pelicans, and rest could make the difference. The Kings and Spurs would likely rest players given their playoff hopes are very slim, potentially handing the Pelicans two or three wins. The Magic could afford to rest players since they are 5.5 games ahead of the Washington Wizards, but that is yet to be seen.

New Orleans will have to swing a 6-2 record or better to make the playoffs, as 5-3 may not be enough through the final eight games. The chances of New Orleans taking the number 8 seed from the 32-33 Grizzlies are slim, but with COVID keeping players sidelined, and others still opting not to play for health concerns, the Pelicans are the only plus-money bet worth taking a stab at. For +360, New Orleans already found success versus the teams jockeying them for position, they're mostly healthy, and committed to playing in Disney -- so at this point why not take a flier on the Pelicans?