Derrick Favors battles with Portland's Hassan Whiteside for a rebound

Pelicans back in West race, likely need 5-0 or 4-1 finish plus help on scoreboard

by Jim Eichenhofer

During crunch time Monday of the most important game of the 2019-20 season so far for New Orleans, the duo of Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson delivered, combining to score seven fourth-quarter baskets in a 10-point win over Memphis. Arguably the NBA’s most exciting and promising combination of starting forwards, the future is very bright for the 22-year-old Ingram and the 20-year-old Williamson – but Monday’s victory also significantly improved their team’s short-term outlook.

Following an ugly weekend loss to the Clippers, the Pelicans appeared to be on the brink of elimination at Disney, but New Orleans (29-38) surged back into the conversation in a jam-packed, six-team race for eighth and ninth place in the Western Conference. Pelicans guard JJ Redick noted Monday that he and his teammates understand the need to “take care of our business” during the remaining seeding games, which the veteran shooting guard characterized as “basically winning out from here.”

A 5-0 finish by New Orleans would seemingly give the Pelicans a reasonable chance at earning a spot in the Aug. 15-16 play-in round, which will be comprised of the West’s eighth- and ninth-place teams (provided the No. 9 team is within four games or less of No. 8 record-wise). An unbeaten run would automatically mean that New Orleans finishes ahead of San Antonio, Phoenix and Sacramento, partly due to a Sunday head-to-head meeting vs. the Spurs on the schedule. That would leave only Memphis and Portland to contend with in the hunt for eighth and ninth.

For the sake of simplicity, here’s what New Orleans would need to reach the play-in round if it goes 5-0:

Portland goes 3-2 or worse (games left vs. Denver, Clippers, Philadelphia, Dallas, Brooklyn)


Memphis goes 2-2 or worse (vs. Oklahoma City, Toronto, Boston, Milwaukee)

If New Orleans goes 5-0 and both the Trail Blazers and Grizzlies cooperate record-wise, the Pelicans would actually move all the way up to eighth place and gain the advantage in the play-in round of two chances to beat the ninth-place squad once.

Of course, the Pelicans don’t necessarily need to run the table in their final five games to maintain a mathematical chance of keeping their season alive. If New Orleans goes 4-1, things definitely get a bit more complicated, but for the sake of argument, if the Pelicans lose once – and the loss is not Sunday’s game vs. San Antonio – here is what NOLA needs to reach the play-in round:

Portland goes 2-3 or worse


Memphis goes 1-3 or worse

In addition, in the event that Phoenix remains perfect on the Orlando campus and goes 5-0, that would require both of the above to occur for NOLA to remain alive.

To cover another possible scenario, if New Orleans goes 4-1, but the single loss is vs. San Antonio, the Pelicans would need three of the following four to occur to advance to the play-in round:

Portland goes 2-3 or worse

Memphis goes 1-3 or worse

San Antonio goes 2-1 or worse in its other three games (vs. Utah, Houston, Utah)

Phoenix goes 4-1 or worse

Can New Orleans go 3-2 in its final five games and still be playing basketball on the weekend of Aug. 15-16, the scheduled play-in round? The short answer is yes, but it would require a staggering amount of help on the scoreboard in other games. Let’s say the Pelicans go 3-2, but one of the wins is against the Spurs. In that event, they would need four of these five things to occur:

Memphis goes 0-4

Portland goes 1-4 or worse

San Antonio goes 2-1 or worse in its other three games

Phoenix goes 3-2 or worse

Sacramento goes 3-2 or worse (or 4-1 or worse, provided that loss is vs. New Orleans)

One final note: New Orleans currently holds a tiebreaking edge on Sacramento based on a 1-0 lead in the season series, but the Kings could take that away by beating the Pelicans twice in upcoming head-to-head meetings Thursday and Tuesday. Of course, from a Pelicans standpoint, going 0-2 against the Kings would render nearly all of the above scenarios moot, making that detail a virtual non-factor in New Orleans’ math.

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