Last night's game was a reminder to the Warriors and the rest of the league that momentum and confidence can go a long way in the NBA (and some help from the refs) and that any team can win on any given night. As the league looks at its last five-or-so games on the schedule, the race for 8th has heated up immensely with the general collapse of the Thunder and the resurgence of New Orleans. Its tough to call the Pelican's recent push surprising - they have been talented yet extremely unlucky all year long injury-wise. It's nice to see them come together now for the sake of a good story, but as pointed out during the game last night, the Warriors can't love this as their potential first round match up.
Today we are going to focus on the impact of last night's results - the Pelicans eeking out the win at home and the Spurs killing the Thunder - on the overall standings. Lets see how the race looks:
New Orleans Pelicans
Nobody ever cares about the tie-breaker or even thinks about it, but here it starts to be very key. The Pelicans own the season series against the Thunder, making it even more of a challenge for the Thunder to overcome them for the 8th spot. We can all-but cross the Suns off the list, but you never know what kind of run a team can go on to end the season.
For discussion purposes, let's look at the remaining schedule for the Pelicans and Thunder to see who has the advantage:
Pelicans (I predict 3-2 to end it)
- @ Grizzlies - will Memphis be resting starters? This is on the back end of the back-to-back with Warriors, but NOP owns the season series at 2-1. Lets call this a win
- vs Suns - Lets call this a win; Suns are in a freefall, and the Pelicans play well at home
- @ Houston - Loss in my projection. Houston is too hot right now and still fighting for the two-spot
- @ Timberwolves - A win - Minn wants better lottery spot
- vs Spurs - Will San Antonio take this game seriously? I'm calling it a playoff tuneup for the Spurs and they take it going away. Call it a loss for New Orleans
Thunder ( I predict 4-0)
- vs Kings - Call this a win for the Thunder in a must-win at home
- @ Pacers - Paul George back, Chris Copeland getting stabbed. Guessing too many changes and distractions for Indiana, Thunder win on the road
- vs Trail Blazers - this will be their do-or-die game. Guessing we get the best out of the Thunder against the Blazers at home. National TV, Russell can be penciled in for a triple-double. Let's call it a win
- @ Timberwolves - a "gimme" if this game still means anything. A win if it matters at all, because Westrbook will murder each one of the Wolves himself.
Based on the schedule above, it seems to be that the Thunder have the easier path to finish out. Don't get me wrong - the Kings can sneak a win on any given night and that Portland game in Oklahoma City are challenges, but I think the Thunder reclaim the spot. The Pelicans did beat the Warriors at home, showing they are able to beat anyone on any given night, but a lot of question marks remain.
Regardless of who wins, who do you think holds the larger challenge for the Warriors? If you look at the season, Golden State holds equal 3-1 records against both teams, but New Orleans is finally healthy where the Thunder seem to be struggling to find their identity. It seem to be clear - a Thunder/Warriors playoff series might have a few shootouts. The Pelicans can play some solid defense (Norris Cole gives Curry some fits, and Asik/Anthony Davis in the middle are a huge challenge).
Please let the playoff start already. The Warriors finish up the season with four games at home, including two against lottery teams in the Timberwolves and the Nuggets. I'm guessing the team goes .500% to end the season due to boredom and rest (though a four-game winning streak would be nice). Let those other teams wear themselves out getting to the big dance - Curry and crew will be rested and healthy when they get there. Good luck to the Thunder and Pelicans - your prize will be facing the top team in the league if you get there.