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The Pelicans making a playoff run, and more on the West

The New Orleans Pelicans were not supposed to be in the playoff mix this season. Despite being in the brutal Southwest Division, New Orleans finds itself only a half-game out of the eighth and final seed of the Western Conference playoffs. With a burgeoning roster and a superstar in Anthony Davis, there are no longer easy wins for opponents in the Big Easy.

New Orleans, 32-28, had won five straight games before Monday’s loss and are nipping at the proverbial heels of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Pelicans have a critical stretch ahead of them, seeing five Eastern Conference teams over their next seven contests, with the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies sprinkled in. The Pelicans must take advantage of the soft schedule, which includes five home dates.

If New Orleans is going to make the postseason, it will be on the back of Davis. The former Kentucky star and national champion has become one of the top three players in basketball, scoring 23.9 points and notching 10.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. Davis’ PER of 31.3 is almost double any other significant contributor on the team, with Jrue Holiday slotting in at 18.7.

The Pelicans have a lack of depth, but some terrific talent nonetheless. Alongside Davis and Holiday are Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Omer Asik. New Orleans has six players scoring in double figures, making it a tough cover for teams without size on the interior and quality guards. Of all the teams which will make the playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies might be the worst matchup because of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol inside, with Courtney Lee and Mike Conley Jr. on the perimeter.

New Orleans has not won a playoff series since the franchise was known as the Hornets back in 2007-08, with Chris Paul and David West leading the way. Since then, the postseason has been reached in 2008-09 and 2010-11, both ending in first-round defeats. Under head coach Monty Williams, the Hornets/Pelicans have missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons but are finally showing signs of real improvement.

If for no other reason, watching Davis make the playoffs is enough to root on these upstarts from New Orleans.

Quick thought

The Warriors are rolling toward the conference’s top seed. They have only dropped two games (24-2) at ORACLE Arena this season, making it a daunting task for anybody to beat Golden State in a best-of-7 series.

Tuesday’s schedule

Sacramento Kings at New York Knicks, 7 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Lakers at Charlotte Hornets (-8), 7 p.m. ET
Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers (-11.5), 7 p.m. ET
Houston Rockets at Atlanta Hawks (-6), 7:30 p.m. ET
Washington Wizards at Chicago Bulls (-4.5), 8 p.m. ET
Utah Jazz at Memphis Grizzlies (-7.5), 8 p.m. ET
Milwaukee Bucks (-5.5) at Denver Nuggets, 9 p.m. ET

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