Can the New Orleans Pelicans Hang Onto the 8 Seed in the Western Conference?
Big things happened in the Western Conference playoff race last night.
The Oklahoma City Thunder lost by 25 to the San Antonio Spurs to continue their recent woes. Oklahoma City hasn't won in April, going 0-4, and are just 1-6 in their last 7 games.
The New Orleans Pelicans, on the other hand, topped the league-best Golden State Warriors 103-100 on the back of Anthony Davis' 29 points and 10 rebounds.
Having now won five of their last six games, the Pelicans have swapped slots with the Thunder and currently own the 8 seed in the West.
Can they hold onto it? And could they really challenge Golden State in a seven-game series?
The Pelicans are 42-35 on the season, a half game better than the Thunder, who are 42-36. The Pelicans still have fie games left on the docket, and three of them are against Western Conference playoff teams. The Thunder, meanwhile, play only one playoff team in their final four: the faltering Portland Trail Blazers.
How much harder is New Orleans' schedule than Oklahoma City's? Well, according to our nERD metric, which is an efficiency measure that aims to predict a team's winning percentage, it's significantly tougher.
|Game||New Orleans||Opp nERD||Olahoma City||Opp nERD|
|4||at MIN||22.8||at MIN||22.8|
The Pelicans square off against three of the top nine teams in our power rankings. The Thunder play just one team in our top 16, and it's a home game.
So their 8 seed status is just temporary, right? Well, the Pelicans have actually fared well against their remaining opponents so far this year. They're 2-1 against Memphis, 1-1 against Phoenix, 2-1 against Houston, 3-0 against Minnesota, and 2-1 against San Antonio.
The Thunder, though, are 2-1 against Sacramento, 1-0 against Indianapolis, and 3-0 against Minnesota -- but are 0-3 against the Blazers.
So what does it mean for the playoff push? According to our algorithms, the Pelicans now have a: 66.5 percent chance to clinch the playoffs (and a 0.5 percent chance to win the Finals), up from 38.8 percent and 0.1 percent entering last night's slate.
The Thunder dropped from 61.2 percent playoff odds and 0.8 percent title odds to 33.5 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively.
Can the Pelicans Challenge the Warriors?
This is a pressing question, of course. Last night, the Warriors trash-talked the Pelicans before the game, and New Orleans responded with a 60-point second half and a three-point victory.
Well, the Warriors entered the contest last night 3-0 against the Pelicans on the year and won those three games by an average of 16.3 points. No offense to the Pelicans, but it's understandable, at least, that the Warriors looked at this more of a scrimmage than a serious game.
But Davis, whose individual nERD of 18.6 (which indicates he'd add 18.6 wins during a season for an average team as a starter) ranks third in the NBA, actually missed two of those three games. And the Pelicans are, unsurprisingly, much, much better when Davis is on the court.
The Pelicans are 10.5 points per 100 possessions better with Davis, but the team as a whole has improved since the trade deadline, too.
Since February 19th, the Pelicans have posted a Net Rating (Offensive Rating minus Defensive Rating) of 3.5, which has been the ninth-best mark in the NBA in that span. Their Offensive Rating (105.5) also ranks ninth.
Of course, the Warriors have a Net Rating of 10.6 since the deadline, actually second in the league (San Antonio -- one of New Orleans' remaining opponents -- has posted a Net Rating of 10.7).
It's not as if they have been better than the Warriors, but they're a top-10 team since the deadline, and they have played seven of their 24 post-deadline games without Davis.
The tide has turned for the Pelicans, and they have the upperhand in the race for the 8 seed. It's far from a guarantee that they can top the Warriors again like they did last night, but this has been a very good team since mid February, and it has a superstar on which it can rely.
Oh, and now it's rather personal between the Pelicans and the Warriors, too.