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The Path Is Clear for New Orleans Pelicans to Sneak into 2015 NBA Playoffs

this is a discussion within the Pelicans Community Forum; For a second, it appeared as though the Oklahoma City Thunder had a leg up on the New Orleans Pelicans . But in a matter of hours, we were reminded that certainty is a utopian concept when it comes to ...

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Old 03-17-2015, 04:32 AM   #1
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The Path Is Clear for New Orleans Pelicans to Sneak into 2015 NBA Playoffs

For a second, it appeared as though the Oklahoma City Thunder had a leg up on the New Orleans Pelicans. But in a matter of hours, we were reminded that certainty is a utopian concept when it comes to the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture.

Despite Anthony Davis' near-quadruple-double (36 points, 14 rebounds, nine blocks, seven assists), the Pelicans fell to the surging Denver Nuggets, 118-111, in double overtime Sunday night.

Combined with Oklahoma City's 109-100 matinee victory over the Chicago Bulls and Kevin Durant's impending return, it seemed like the Thunder were creating a little separation in their quest to capture the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot.

Then Monday happened.

According to ESPN.com's Royce Young, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka is scheduled to "undergo a knee procedure to address some persistent soreness," with no definitive timetable available at this juncture.

Following that announcement, Oklahoma City blew a 15-point lead and fell to the Dallas Mavericks, 119-115. New Orleans once again moved within a half-game of the No. 8 seed by virtue of the loss.

That's discouraging news for the Thunder, but it's overwhelmingly positive for the Pelicans.

Although they dropped Sunday's thriller to the Nuggets, New Orleans has upped its game with a shot at postseason validation on the line.

For the past two seasons, the Pelicans have failed to be better than the sum of their parts. As a result, they've been tagged as perennial underachievers.

Injuries to Jrue Holiday (leg), Ryan Anderson (neck, knee) and Eric Gordon (shoulder, knee, ankle) have inhibited their quest for affirmation these past couple of seasons—a qualifier that shouldn't be undersold.

USA Today's Sam Amick wrote:
Both teams are far from healthy, but the emergence of Pelicans point guard Tyreke Evans as a starter has helped soften the blow of Jrue Holiday's extended absence (right leg) and New Orleans has continued to play well (nine wins in their last 12 games) despite being without forward Ryan Anderson as well (he's been out since mid-February with a right knee injury).

But if there's a time and place for the Pelicans to prove they're taking sizable developmental strides, it's now.

As CBS Sports' Matt Moore explained, the loss of Ibaka—who fuels Oklahoma City's execution and helps mask flaws on offense and defense—will have far-reaching implications:
The loss of Ibaka is obvious on both ends. He's their third-best offensive player and their best defensive player. Ibaka roams the paint and closes off weakside rotations. His impact is felt beyond the blocks off the glass and the rebounds, and beyond his short and long-range jumpers.

Defensively he covers for mistakes made by the Thunder's inexperienced bigs and for Russell Westbrook's gambles. And offensively, his spacing keeps the defense honest and prevents it from collapsing down on Westbrook's drives completely.

Even with an 80-plus percent chance to qualify for the postseason, according to Hollinger's NBA Playoff Odds (via ESPN.com), there's no reason to think the next few weeks will be a cakewalk for the Thunder. Not even close.

New Orleans has been an offensive wrecking crew all season long—a storyline that's flown under-the-radar. While the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks have all been praised at various times for their tactical advancements, New Orleans hasn't been lauded to the same degree.

Overall, the Pelicans rank seventh with an offensive rating of 105.6. Those aforementioned foes are the only Western Conference clubs that have been more efficient. Since the All-Star break, the mark has crept up to an even 106.

And while the offense has been carrying New Orleans all season long, it's admirably battled defensive demons and inched into respectable territory.

A season-long defensive rating that ranks 25th overall paints an ugly picture, but the progress that's taken place over the last month indicates the Pelicans' worst days are behind them. In other words, judge the micro, not the macro.

The February lull put development in doubt, but post-All-Star break efficiency has made them a league-average unit on that end.

With Davis and Omer Asik holding down the interior, New Orleans is an entirely different beast. And that's because Davis is the product of a different species.

"He's the future of what the NBA is and what it looks like on and off the court," Nuggets interim head coach Melvin Hunt said following Sunday's showdown, according to Pelicans.com's Jim Eichenhofer.

If Hunt's right, then get ready for the future of the NBA to be littered with cyborgs.

As those on/off splits indicate, New Orleans would be spinning its tires without Davis. He's the lifeblood of Big Easy basketball, and truth be told, his outrageous individual accomplishments likely won't be viewed as more than an evolutionary stepping stone if the Pelicans can't substantiate them with a postseason berth.

"We're still in the anticipation phase with Davis, transfixed by the mystery of what he is now and wondering what he might someday become," Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes wrote.

Since Davis is on track to become the first player 22 years old or younger to average at least 24 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks since Shaquille O'Neal, he's indisputably special to a degree we haven't seen in decades.

Just like the Pelicans, Davis needs a postseason profile to accelerate his rate of appreciation.

That can all be accomplished if New Orleans seizes the moment now that Oklahoma City likely won't be back at full strength for the remainder of the regular season.

Sure, it won't come without obstacles. Nine of its remaining games will come on the road, with 11 of the 16 slated to be played against opponents who are currently .500 or better. For a team that's 17-17 against such squads, the next month will test every bit of the Pelicans' physical and mental fortitude.

But this is when the cream is supposed to rise to the top, and New Orleans has the pieces necessary to achieve upward mobility.

At long last, the Pelicans' window for playoff entry has cracked open. Now they just need to slam it shut and validate the hype.

All statistics current as of March 16 and courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless noted otherwise.

Read more New Orleans Pelicans news on BleacherReport.com

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