COMMENTARY | Through December 1, 2013, most NBA insiders and experts would not consider the New Orleans Pelicans to be serious contenders for the Western Conference playoffs.
However, the Pelicans are vastly improved and are headed in the right direction. The addition of PG Jrue Holiday actually has the Pelicans running fastbreaks. The upgraded roster also has the Pelicans routinely scoring more than 100 points per game. And despite last night's injury, PF Anthony Davis is one of the NBA's best young players.
As a result of all these wonderful things, New Orleans is on the outside looking in at the NBA Western Conference playoff chase.
Granted, the season is young, but if the NBA playoffs started today, the Pelicans would be praying to the ping-pong gods and preparing for the NBA draft instead of game-planning for their first-round Western Conference postseason foe. The Pelicans are 8-8 after defeating the New York Knicks Sunday night and a .500 record likely wouldn't be good enough to land in the top eight of the Western Conference any better in late April than it is in early December.
A quick look at the Eastern Conference standings is enough to make a New Orleans NBA fan cry. As incredible as this is to believe, only two Eastern Conference NBA teams have winning records. In fact, 12 of the 15 Eastern Conference teams have losing records. The juggernaut 9-9 Atlanta Hawks would be the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. And the Detroit Pistons would earn the final playoff spot with an embarrassing 7-10 record.
So if the 2013-14 NBA season ended today, the New Orleans Pelicans would be in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Of course, I'm sure many Western Conference teams would love to switch over to the Eastern Conference to improve their playoff chances. However, the old New Orleans Jazz played in the Eastern Conference, as did the Hornets when they first moved to New Orleans. And geographically, New Orleans is (barely) east of the Mississippi River.
A closer look at the Pelicans' record and schedule reveals that New Orleans would likely be a home team in the first round of the 2014 NBA Eastern Conference playoffs. Although the Pelicans are only 8-8, they are actually 5-2 against Eastern Conference opponents. And given how NBA schedules are weighted, New Orleans would play a much higher percentage of its games against Eastern Conference opponents than Western Conference foes.
So the answer to the question posed in the title is a resounding "yes." But it isn't a catastrophe if the Pelicans do not make the 2014 NBA playoffs. New Orleans has one of the NBA's youngest rosters and its fortunes are trending upward. With solid ownership and a long-term lease, the Pelicans no longer need short-term success to avoid relocation. And even if the Pelicans made the Eastern Conference playoffs, they wouldn't get past the Miami Heat.
But it's still depressing that the New Orleans Pelicans would be a 2014 NBA Eastern Conference playoff team instead of a Western Conference lottery team.
Patrick Michael was born in New Orleans and currently resides in the Big Easy. A loyal New Orleans NBA fan, Patrick was a diehard New Orleans Jazz fan and now cheers for the Pelicans. Patrick was in attendance the night the Hornets were one win away from the Western Conference Finals. Follow Patrick Michael on Twitter at patmichael84.
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