Pelicans

Pelicans’ Playoff Push Contingent on What’s Plagued Them

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Hovering just outside of the play-in threshold, the New Orleans Pelicans’ playoff push is long underway.

The rollercoaster season will come down to the final stretch. A semi-productive April, along with inconsistence from their opponents, revitalized a seemingly lost season. New Orleans plays Golden State thrice in their run home and the Spurs, Mavericks and Grizzlies once.

The six games have incredible playoff implications. As such, let’s delve deeper into the Pelicans’ playoff push.

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Toughness During Adversity

April has been a trying month for the franchise. Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Lonzo Ball and Steven Adams all missed some time during the eight-game stretch.

The team has played nine games in fifteen days. Teams could and have folded, but not New Orleans. Guided by their youthful core and newly refocused defensive intensity, the team bounced back from two early losses. The excitement behind their inconsistencies may be questionable, but considering what the team has had to overcome, it is a step in the right direction. 

It seems Hart and Alexander-Walker are set to miss most if not all of April. These losses have not been as detrimental as expected, however. James Johnson and Wes Iwundu’s arrivals indicated a change in focus. Both players are great team defenders, and Johnson’s toughness and team-centered mentality have brought life into the bench unit.

On top of everything, Naji Marshall‘s emergence is nothing short of spectacular. Marshall’s game somewhat mimics a hybrid of Johnson and Dorian Finney-Smith. His shooting is nowhere near where it has to be to survive in the league, but Naji’s IQ has shifted him into a critical 3-and-D role. 

Hart and Alexander-Walker’s prolonged stints on the sideline will only see Marshall and Iwundu’s minutes rise. New Orleans’s issue is both players are abysmal shooters, reflecting in the league’s third-worst three-point percentage. Trading Redick foresaw a decrease in three-point effectiveness, but to see a porous rate like this is worrisome. The issues are highlighted by being constantly outscored significantly from three. In their last encounter with New York, the team was outscored by 33 from three in a ten-point loss.

Leading From The Front

Conversely, Zion and Brandon have become one of the brightest young duos in the NBA. Together, the tandem is averaging 57 points per game in April. Their contrasting styles continue to mesh, and it is obvious they are growing simultaneously. Stan Van Gundy’s accountability of both stars is becoming essential to the team’s growth. There is no doubt holding your stars accountable is mandatory for an elite team. Championship teams like Toronto, San Antonio and Golden State had leaders leading by example.

Similarly, Van Gundy was hired to heighten the responsibilities of the young core.

The mismatch both players have daily — especially Zion — must be utilized through the playoff push. Zion is an unstoppable force at the moment, averaging almost 27 points per game on 62% shooting. Regardless of Zion’s matchup, teams have yet to work out the formula to stop him. The strength mixed with athleticism is a combination only Shaq resembles. However, Zion’s playmaking ability and tight handle virtually make him a guard at times, similar to Ben Simmons and Magic Johnson.

The Playoff Push

As mentioned earlier, a third of New Orleans’ games are against teams in the play-in seeds. Losses essentially count as double. In particular, the three-game series with Golden State will most likely determine the tenth seed. Although extremely important, New Orleans cannot drop games to lottery teams– a trait of all past Pelicans teams. 37 wins will more than likely send them into the seeding games, meaning the team will need at least 12 victories.

If the team can rediscover their early-season defense and improve their three-point shooting, this is possible, but both are issues that have plagued them throughout.

The playoff push is on, and it starts against Washington.

Follow us on Twitter @PelicansLead for the latest Pelicans news and insight. 

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About Vance Abreu

An Australian trying to make it big in Toronto, Canada. Weekly articles about the Pelicans journey to a NBA championship

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