With three quarters of the 2020-2021 NBA Season in the rearview mirror, the race is on for many “border teams” to make a final push into a playoff spot. This season, even more teams have something at stake as the NBA has announced the addition of their Play-In tournament. Seeds 7-10 from each conference will enter a tournament in which seeds 9 and 10 would have to win twice against the higher-rated seed in order to make the playoffs. Seed 7 will play seed 10 and seeds 8 and 9 will face off against each other.
The New Orleans Pelicans currently find themselves sitting as an 11th seed in the Western Conference, just 2 games out of the 10th place San Antonio Spurs. As of April 16, 2021, the Pelicans have 17 remaining games. Of those 17, only one is a matchup with the Spurs. With Lonzo Ball returning to the lineup after a second hip flexor injury, the Pelicans starting lineup is as healthy as its been since March 18th, per Will Guillory of The Athletic via Twitter. Although the starting lineup seems to be returning to normal, the Pelicans will remain without the services of Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker as they both recover from longer-term injuries.
Looking ahead to the remaining games for the Pelicans, there will be some tough matchups for a young squad. The Pelicans have shown before that they have the ability to beat good teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers or Utah Jazz, but their inconsistency makes these games impossible to predict. Below are the games remaining in April for New Orleans highlighted by games against the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets.
4/16: Pelicans @ Wizards
4/18: Pelicans @ Knicks
4/20: Nets @ Pelicans
4/22: Pelicans @ Magic
4/24: Spurs @ Pelicans
4/26: Clippers @ Pelicans
4/28: Pelicans @ Nuggets
4/29: Pelicans @ Thunder
Although the Pelicans strength of schedule over the next month is not as strong as some other contending teams, there are still some difficult games for an injured young team. Coach Stan Van Gundy will need his players to step up and make big plays in big games.
One player that has far exceeded expectations as of late is Naji Marshall. Although the box score may not show it, his nightly contribution lights a fire under the players when they need it most. Following the matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Marshall was dubbed the game MVP by his teammates and given the game ball (per Rookie Wire). The Pelicans will look for more outstanding performances from the 23-year-old as Hart and Alexander-Walker continue to miss time. If the Pelicans want to make a playoff run, the time is now for them to start playing with heart.