Lonzo Ball, Pelicans ready for must-win matchups with Warriors: ‘This will be the biggest game of the season’

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Jacob Rude
·3 min read
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For weeks, Pelican fans have had Monday and Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Warriors circled on the calendar. With both sides embroiled in the race for the play-in matchups, a doubleheader in the final eight games of the season was always going to play an enormous role in the standings.

The team itself? They’ve had a must-win mentality before Monday even came around. That mentality allowed them to stage a late-game comeback on Saturday against the Timberwolves to save the stakes for Monday’s contest. For weeks, the Pelicans have viewed their upcoming game as the most important of the season.

“This was the biggest game of the season and now Monday will be the biggest game of the season,” head coach Stan Van Gundy said after Saturday’s overtime win over Minnesota. “One of the things we talk about…is the game you’re playing that night has to be the biggest game of the year and that’s how you have to approach it because we can’t afford very many losses. Obviously, we’re fighting with Golden State so everybody will focus on that but if you give away a game tonight, it just gets further and further out of reach.”

It’s been a tumultuous season for the Pelicans as they’ve bumbled and stumbled through chunks of the year. Their must-win mentality started against San Antonio on April 24, a game in which the trio of Lonzo Ball, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram combined for 81 points in a loss.

However, since that loss, the Pelicans have three of their last four games, the one loss coming in controversial fashion against the Nuggets. As has been the case most of the season, it’s been just enough for New Orleans to remain in the race for the 10th seed.

While the Pelicans have been on the outside looking in most of the season at the play-in games, the Warriors have been their counterpart. Golden State has floated through the play-in spots with a .500 record this season. Entering Monday, they sit at 32-32 and in the ninth seed, three games ahead of New Orleans.

Wins on Monday and Tuesday, then, would trim that margin all the way down to a single game. For now, though, the Pelicans are taking it one game at a time.

“We’re going into Monday with a must-win mentality,” Lonzo Ball said. “We’re not really focused on Tuesday. We have to take it one game at a time because we can’t look ahead. We have to put all our focus in that first game Monday and come out with a win and go from there.”

After their doubleheader this week, the Pelicans will have a third match-up with the Warriors on May 14. Theoretically, it puts their fate in their own hands. As unlikely a task as it may be, the Pelicans can win out and guarantee a spot in the postseason.

Even as improbable a feat as that may be, what can’t be denied is that New Orleans’ fate will be decided by themselves. After a long season of ups, downs and frustrations in-between, the Pelicans could hardly ask for anything else.

“It helps a lot that our destiny is in our hands,” Ball said. “We don’t really have to worry about anyone else. It all depends on us. We have three games against them, which isn’t going to be easy at all. We know it’s a tough task and that’s all we can ask for is a chance.”

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