Dig Baton Rouge

Down the Home Stretch

By Casey Gisclair
@casey_gisclair

Throughout the season, I never really put too much thought into what making the NBA playoffs would mean for the New Orleans Pelicans because the idea of that happening was too far-fetched for me to considered.

I thought the Oklahoma City Thunder was too battle-tested and the Pelicans were too inconsistent. I gave New Orleans a zero percent chance to survive the regular season afloat. There’s no denying it, because I’ve written the same thing in this column throughout the season.

But as I sit here and power through this week’s column, I realized that there are less than 20 games left in the NBA season and the Pels are just one measly game out of the eighth spot in the brutal Western Conference.

So that got me to take the pessimism syrup out of my Kool-Aid, which led to the following thought: ‘Exactly what would it mean to the Pelicans’ franchise to make the playoffs this season?’

The answer? It would mean absolutely everything!

Being a playoff team for the first time is the proverbial start of the time clock for every NBA team that is trying to build something special.

There are never any expectations surrounding that first trip, and there would be none surrounding New Orleans, either, should they survive the season and score the No. 8 seed.

Barring a miracle or freak injury, the Pelicans would lose pretty handily in Rd. 1 to a Golden State team that is a matchup nightmare for a New Orleans team that doesn’t do so well defending the outside shot.

But just being there is all that matters at this point. Going to the dance would do so much for this franchise and its future.

For starters, it would sort-of prove to the front-running, fickle basketball fanbase in New Orleans that things are headed in the right direction – something that would convince them to support the team.

Louisiana sports fans are a front-running bunch that needs to see results – immediately – to rally around a team. Tanking and playing to lose in the past several seasons absolutely was the right thing to do for New Orleans. Heck, doing so landed the team Anthony Davis.

But being non-competitive also lost the team a bunch of fans, and the Smoothie King Center’s attendance proves it. I was at the game last Wednesday night against the Pistons. It was a wreck. There were hundreds and hundreds of empty seats – IN THE BOTTOM BOWL! The upper deck was 40 percent empty – if not more.

Making the playoffs will give the team validity and make it “cool” to be a Pelicans fan. Having Anthony Davis alone should accomplish that, but not in Louisiana. We’re too disloyal and too fickle. You have to win games in abundance to generate a mass following.

Away from the popularity contest, making the playoffs would also be a huge luxury to General Manager Dell Demps. By getting a crack at Golden State in a seven-game series, the Pels would see exactly where the team’s roster stands in relation to the powerhouses of the league.

If the team loses a close series, maybe the plan going forward is to keep the core intact and slightly tweak to polish the roster.

If ousted in four or five ugly games, maybe it’s time to consider trading a guy like Jrue Holiday or Tyreke Evans in hopes of making a big leap to close the gap.

Getting there would also be huge for dominant power forward Anthony Davis, who needs a few trial runs before getting serious about making a run at the championship.

History shows that teams don’t ever win the title until they’ve tasted failure before. Getting to the playoffs and losing in the first round would give Davis that bitter taste that he needs to keep getting better this summer so that he can continue to progress and mold into the league’s best post player.

The odds are still slim. Catching OKC will be no easy feat.

But with less than 20 games to go, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Getting there would be a game changer for this franchise – an absolute game changer.

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