NBA Playoffs Preview: Warriors vs. Pelicans

Will the Warriors continue their historic run, or will the Pelicans make history of their own in the first round?

After a regular season in which the fate of many teams came down to the last game of the year, the playoff brackets are finally set. The Warriors look to turn their historic regular season into a championship celebration, while the Pelicans hope this is the first of many deep playoff runs with Anthony Davis leading the way.

Will it just be business as usual for the Dubs, or will the Pelicans have their own Cinderella run? Let's dig into the Western Conference matchup.

Golden State Warriors (1)

Record: 67-15
nERD: 80.7
Championship Odds: 37.7%

New Orleans Pelicans (8)

Record: 45-37
nERD: 52.7
Championship Odds: 0.5%

Regular Season Series - Warriors 3, Pelicans 1

In their two home games against New Orleans, the Warriors easily took care of business, winning both games by an average margin of 21.5 points. When it was the Pelicans' turn to hold serve, they did their best to fend off the season-long favorites. The two home games for New Orleans were the only times they broke the 100-point mark in the regular season matchup with Golden State, resulting in a 128-122 overtime loss and a narrow victory, 103-100.

Last week's meeting between the two playoff teams -- the Pelicans' lone win against the Warriors this season -- saw one of the rare cold shooting nights for Klay Thompson. Thompson was only able to manage 7 points on 2-for-10 shooting, including going a poor 1-for-5 from three-point land. Quincy Pondexter, on the other hand, was lights out, going 6-for-7 from the field and hitting all four of his threes. Pondexter's 20 points that night complimented Davis' typical stuffed stat line of 29 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 steals to prevent getting swept by Golden State on the season.

How the Warriors Can Win

The Warriors' formula to get out of the first round is the same as the formula that helped them become only the 10th team in NBA history to reach 67 wins: elite passing (27.4 assist per game), deadly long-range shooting (39.8 percent) and the best defense in the league (101.4 defensive efficiency). Although New Orleans has several perimeter threats on offense in Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Pondexter, Golden State has depth from all positions on the floor to minimize the damage done by the Pelican guards/wings.

The table below shows the Defensive Real Plus Minus and position ranking of the Warrior's core rotation, according to ESPN's Real Plus Minus.

PlayerDefense RPMPosition Rank
Andrew Bogut6.021
Draymond Green4.602
Andrew Iguodala1.709
Steph Curry1.155
Shaun Livingston0.988
Harrison Barnes0.1031
Klay Thompson-0.0933

In the Warriors' three wins against the Pelicans, they held New Orleans to 43.7 percent shooting (33.2 percent from three) and 99.5 in offensive efficiency, which would rank second-worst in the league if that lasted a whole season. With so many quality (and long) defenders at their disposal, Golden State will be able to switch on most pick-and-rolls without much issue. Green will be able to cover Davis and Ryan Anderson when they face up from mid-range, and Bogut provides the necessary rim protection and help-defense should the Pelicans get to the paint.

Warriors Player to Watch - Stephen Curry

You know this Warriors' team has a chance to be historically great when it takes nearly 500 words before giving MVP-candidate Steph Curry a proper mention. Since the All-Star break, Curry's shooting numbers have been video game-esque: 49.8 percent from the floor, 51.7 percent from three, 94.4 percent from the free-throw line. He can get hot at any moment, can get a three off in the blink of an eye, throw laser passes to a man you didn't even know was open or simply shake you out your shoes. The problems Curry can create for defenses is reflected in his league-leading nERD rating of 20.5.

In the Warriors four meetings against the Pelicans, Curry averaged a Plus-Minus of 8.25, reflecting the overall impact on his team's performance. Even in a game where Curry did not manage to score 20 points against the Pelicans, he provided 11 assists and 4 steals on route to a 27-point victory, the largest margin of the four games. The Pelicans will have their hands full trying to stop Curry from scoring and an even harder time stopping him from finding other ways to help Golden State win.

How the Pelicans Can Win

The Pelicans will need take advantage of all of their home games if they are going to have a chance to upset Golden State. New Orleans' lone victory against Golden State was at home and their overtime loss was without Davis playing in that game. It also won't be enough for Davis to simply have a tremendous series, as he averaged 29.5 points, 12.5 boards, 3.5 blocks and 2 steals in the two games he played against Golden State. New Orleans will also need the supporting cast to step-up as well, whether it's Anderson and Gordon getting hot from three, Evans getting to the basket, Holiday slowing down Curry (ranked 16th in defensive RPM among point guards) or some combination of all three.

Pelicans Player to Watch - Omer Asik

Omer Asik has started for New Orleans all season, and will most likely remain in the starting lineup. But it will be interesting if he will be able to remain a constant in the rotation throughout the series. While he will be key protecting the paint (Asik's 1.78 Defensive RPM ranks 23 among centers) alongside Davis, his inability to score and consistently hit free throws may cause him to be a liability.

Asik's points mainly come off easy dunks and tip-ins, but he doesn't create offense for himself or others, as his -2.90 Offensive RPM ranks in the bottom 10 of all centers. As we saw on Wednesday with the Spurs trying to come back from behind, Asik's 58.2 percent free-throw shooting may cause Golden State to perform the "Hack-A" strategy to either get back into games or keep New Orleans from fighting back from a deficit. Should the games come down to Asik at the line, Monty Williams will have a decision to make.

Series Prediction

Too much depth. Too much great passing. Too much smart cutting. Too much length. Too much suffocating defense. Too much shooting. Too much curry with the pot, boy.

According to our algorithms: Warriors are 86.42% favorites.

My final prediction: Warriors sweep their way to the second round.