The New Orleans Pelicans will host the Oklahoma Thunder this Wednesday, April 12, for a spot in the playoffs. The game will be played in New Orleans at Smoothie King Center. This play-in game marks the matchup between the 9 seed and the 10 seed of the Western Conference. Whichever team loses will not have another opportunity to make it to the postseason as they won’t be able to play against the winner of the game between the 7 seed and the 8 seed.
If the Pelicans should advance to the 2023 NBA Playoffs, it’s actually unlikely that New Orleans would have Williamson at any point in the first round, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
“I think right now,” begins Charania, “what’s holding back Zion Williamson is that the hamstring might be closed to healed or feeling good. But from a conditioning perspective, he has not been from what I’m told able to bridge that gap between his conditioning, his basketball shape, you know, everything that goes into being Zion Williamson.”
We’ll get to see Brandon Ingram and C.J. McCollum try and carry the Pelicans back to the NBA Playoffs via the Play-In for the second year in a row, while the Thunder will continue to try and exceed expectations by claiming an unlikely playoff spot.
Will the young trio of Shai Gilgeous Alexander, Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams all of whom are under 24 years old — leave their mark on their first postseason experience? Or can the Pelicans make another run with a pair of Play-In wins to make another top seed sweat?
FanDuel: Pelicans 112, Thunder 109
Larry Rupp writes: “Three of the four regular-season meetings between these teams were decided by 4 points or less, so this one could go either way. I’ll side with the home team, though, as New Orleans ranks eighth in average scoring margin at home (+5.0) and has won four of its last six games against Oklahoma City.”
Doc’s Sports: Go with Pelicans to cover against Thunder
It writes: “The Pelicans on defense are ranked 9th in the NBA in points per game surrendered with 112.5. They are able to force 15.0 turnovers per game and have let teams shoot 47.2% from the field (12th in the league). The New Orleans defense gives up 33.9% on 3-pointers (1,002 of 2,953) and opponents are making 77.9% of their foul shots. They have allowed 24.9 assists and 41.8 total rebounds per game, which is 8th and 5th in basketball.”
The Pelicans aren’t exactly rolling in playoff experience, but they have a significant advantage over the Thunder in this department. Of their starters, Trey Murphy and Herb Jones are obviously relatively new to the league, but each of the in-form Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas has at least seven seasons experience in the NBA. Of that trio, Ingram has the least playoff experience, with last year’s first round loss to the Phoenix Suns his only trip to the postseason. But both McCollum and Valanciunas have been there plenty, the former having 63 playoff games to his name and the latter 54.
Between their starting five, the Thunder have a grand total of 19 games playoff experience. Both Jaylin and Jalen Williams’ are, of course, in their rookie year, while Josh Giddey is in just his second and hasn’t yet tasted the postseason. Lu Dort got six games worth of experience in 2020, while Gilgeous Alexander played that same series and one the year prior, too. Neither of them has won a playoff series or even played in one for three years, and yet they lead the way for OKC in terms of postseason experience.
The Hornets have five picks in the draft this summer, including two in the first round, and will be in the mix for a top lottery pick. They also have about $40 million in salary cap space available.
And with owner Michael Jordan set to sell his controlling stake of the franchise in the near future, it’s clear things are changing or at least can change in Charlotte.
But in the end, it all comes down to how the team plays on the court. Nothing else really matters.
“The main thing is winning,” Ball said, via The Associated Press. “Life is better when you win.”
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