WE THE SOUTH: NOLA’s Bench Mob Goes Berserk Against Toronto

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Well, THAT was a load of fun. The Pelicans defeated the Raptors 100-97 Monday night in the Smoothie King Center. It wraps up a New Orleans series sweep of the Raptors, after the Pelicans scored a thrilling, 95-93 win in Toronto earlier this year. The win is the Pelicans’ second in a row following a four-game skid. The Pelicans are now 29-27 and two games behind the Thunder for the final playoff spot in the West with 26 games to go.

Let’s avoid the future for now and look back at this game. The Pelicans were severely undermanned going into this, with both Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson picking up injuries against the Heat. They joined Jrue Holiday on the sidelines, leaving the Pelicans without three of their top six players, including their top two. How did they come away with a victory while missing such key pieces? Well, the bench mob came to New Orleans…and they were steady mobbin.

Peep this shit: the Pelicans’ starters scored 45 points, while the backups dominated with 55. The Raptors’ bench, in comparison, dropped 21. The bench mob shot 24-35 from the field for their 55, with Jimmer’s two free throws in the final minute being the only bench points from the charity stripe. Due to the limited roster Monty had to work with, the Pelicans went with consisent offensive and defensive subs in crunch time. However, three guys who didn’t start the game (Norris Cole, Luke Babbitt and Alexis Ajinca) were heavily relied upon to close it out.

Let’s look at each member of the bench’s big night individually.

Alexis Ajinca

With both AD and Anderson out, the Pelicans needed Ajinca to provide major frontcourt minutes, and he more than delivered. Ajinca finished with 16 points on 8-12 shooting and 9 rebounds, and he scored the go-ahead basket off a great assist by Tyreke. Alexis also accrued 5 fouls because Ajinca gonna Ajinca, and he committed 5 turnovers, including a few where he just gave the ball straight back to the Raptors after securing a rebound. However, Ajinca was a clear boost for a Pelicans team short on bigs. He continued his fine form against the Toronto, as he scored a career-high 22 points against them in this year’s first matchup.

Luke Babbitt

Luke Babbitt stepped into a team sorely missing Ryan Anderson…and gave them a pretty damn good Ryan Anderson game. Babbitt finished with 18 points and 8 rebounds while shooting 4-5 from behind the arc. Luke and his luscious locks made two back-to-back threes late in the game to turn a 93-88 deficit into a 94-93 lead. Babbitt also showed a bit more to his game than we’re used to, as he took a few guys to the rim and cashed in on some closer looks. (Babbitt then airballed a pull-up 16-footer but his hair’s beautiful and he scored 10 in the fourth quarter so idc idc idc)

Norris Cole

Oh, man. It’s only been two games, but my friends and I wanna cuff Norris up forever. We’re all racing to see who can get a flat top haircut first. Cole finished with 15 points on 7-11 shooting to go along with 6 assists in 25 minutes. Norris played all of the fourth quarter and either scored or assisted on the Pelicans’ first 12 points in the final frame. In that final frame, Cole shot 6-7 for 13 points and dished out two assists. This was in the third quarter, but just look at this shit. That’s just a lovely pocket pass for an easy bucket. Cole is a high-IQ, skilled, tough guard that has been a great addition so far. We’ll expand on him in another post.

Jimmer Fredette

Jimmer only played six seconds, but hoo boy did he come up clutch. My man got in the game for the sole purpose of nailing free throws, got fouled and DID. THE. FUCK. ING. THANG. Jimmer stepped up to the line to extend the Pelicans’ lead to three with four seconds to go. But that wasn’t the most important thing here. While situational basketball is awesome, Jimmer’s second ice-cold free throw put the Pelicans at 100 points, which means…#PAPASFRITAS. That’s right, this free-throw swishing death machine led New Orleans to free fries at Buffalo Wild Wings, so long as you have a ticket stub from the Raptors game. What an angel you are, Jimmer. You are perfect, Jimbo.

I may have celebrated this win by eating Domino’s twice yesterday. Today they play the Nets in another winnable game. We can’t expect the bench mob to go hammertime like this every game, but they won’t have to if the starters can turn in a better performance, which they are more than capable of doing. For now, the team has to hold down the fort until Altron comes back, then hope for as quick a recovery as possible for Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday. Also it would be nice if Russell Westbrook would stop going Super Saiyan 19 on everybody so the Thunder could lose once in a while.

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THE PELICANS ARE HERE TO BREAK TIES AND BREAK HEARTS

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After Monday’s glorious beatdown of the Atlanta Hawks and the Grizzlies’ clutch victory over the Suns, the Pelicans are only one game (!!!) out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference. With 34 games left on the schedule, there is still an entire story to be written. All of us watching the team closely have begun to spring with optimism, seeing a team that finally understands each other, with each teammate’s abilities contributing to the success of others.

However, when people talk about the race for the eighth spot, the conversation focuses on two teams: the Phoenix Suns, currently seeded eighth, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, seeded tenth. It’s almost like the media is overlooking the team seeded ninth, the Pelicans. Even though the Pelicans are tied with the Suns in the loss column and are ahead by two games on the Thunder, they are still largely ignored in playoff talk. What, y’all are just gonna give the Thunder all this credit because they have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and multiple years of impressive achievements? Okay, well…ANTHONY DAVIS. That’s my answer to about 94% of questions pertaining to anything, but still. The Pelicans deserve to be talked about! We’re pretty! We want to be included!

Over here in this part of the internet landscape, our twelve readers and I will consider this a three team race. With that in mind, the race may come down to one or two wins…or maybe even zero. Yeah, if multiple teams end with the same record, then we get America’s favorite: A GOOD OLD-FASHIONED TIE BREAKING SCENARIO. Go check out the tie-breaker rules for the NBA playoffs so you can see what the Pelicans are looking at. Head-to-head records are the first line of defense. And here’s the playoffs boner poking out of my NBA jeans: The Pelicans have a head start on both their adversaries for the eighth seed. Let’s check this out these scenarios team by team.

Phoenix Suns

The Pelicans have three games total this year against the Suns, thus there will be no tied head-to-head record. If the teams end up tied for the eight seed, whomever wins the season series will be offered up as tribute to the godless, blood-drinking hellbeast known as the Warriors advance to the playoffs. The Pelicans are currently up 1-0 courtesy of a 110-106 victory on December 30. Their next matchup is on March 19 in Phoenix, before playing again in New Orleans on April 10 in the 79th game of the year. Depending on what happens before, that last game could prove crucial to determining these teams’ fortunes. Of course, it would be best for the Pels to win both games, as that would help the Pelicans gain a lot of distance in the race. But the Suns are a good team, and expecting to sweep them is wishful thinking. Just splitting the next two would at least give the Pels the tie breaker advantage.

Oklahoma City Thunder

With the Thunder, we’ll know about tie-breakers very soon. The Pelicans are already up 2-0 on Oklahoma City this season. They won 112-104 in Kevin Durant’s first game back before getting a dramatic 101-99 win in Oklahoma City on December 21. However, the season series will be all wrapped up within two days. Tonight, the Pelicans play the Thunder in New Orleans before finishing up the home-and-home with another game on Friday in OKC.

Here is where injuries will play a big role. KD is out for the Thunder tonight. Last I checked, he’s pretty good at basketball, so that’s bad for them. However, the Thunder still have Russell Westbrook, who is a terrifying cocktail of nitroglycerin, dunks and sheer anger. I mean just look at the death stare he gives at his OWN TEAMMATES FOR MISSING A DAP. I almost just shit myself. Anyways, the Pelicans at full health are well-equipped to deal with Westbrook, as they have Jrue Holiday. Holiday is Westbrook’s kryptonite, as he is a calm, heady mega-athlete to Westbrook’s raging, relentless mega-athlete. In that last game, Jrue held Westbrook to 10-27 shooting, including a missed game-winning three point attempt.

Anyways, if the Pelicans could bring out the brooms here and beat an undermanned Thunder team twice in three days, that would be ENORMOUS. They would put the Thunder four games behind New Orleans, and also add two more wins to that elusive 50-win benchmark people have set for the eighth seed. However, if Russ goes supernova and destroys shit, as he is wont to do, the Pelicans could still own a tiebreaker with one win in these next two games.

IF, however, the Pelicans drop both games, we’ve got some problems. First, the Thunder and Pels are again tied in the race, and the tiebreaker would go down to record in the conference. With two losses to OKC, the Pelicans would still be 18-14 compared to the Thunder’s 14-16 record. So, while they would still have the inside edge on a tie-breaker, let’s hope it doesn’t come to this.

San Antonio Spurs

Okay, okay, okay. Now it’s time for #COKEDREAMZ. Pass me that plate, man. Let’s say the Pelicans go on a serious run and start knocking the shit out of teams. As of this writing, the 26-22 Pelicans are four games behind the 30-18 Spurs. If the Pels get for real mega super awesome over the next 34 games, and the Spurs falter a bit, they could push for the seventh spot! Are we likely to see this? NO. Am I gonna say it isn’t possible? NO, BECAUSE ALTRON IS THE ONE TRUE GOD, YOU DOLT.

As of now, the Pelicans are up 2-1 in the series. They should be up 3-0 but OH WAIT SORRY DON’T WANNT TALK ABOUT IT LALALALALALA. Well, the Pelicans and Spurs have one game left. If the birds win, they own the tiebreaker and could sneak into the seventh seed and avoid the Warriors with the same record as San Antonio. Lose, and then it comes down to division record. Fortunately, the Spurs are currently 4-6 against the Southwest, while the Pelicans are the only team in the division with a winning record against their brethren at 6-4. So, the Pels still have the inside track on that tie-breaker, but let’s hope they can just clean up on the Spurs when they meet on April 15.

So, those are the scenarios. Thankfully, the Pelicans have the inside track in almost every situation. However, there is still so much work to be done. Let’s see how it plays out and enjoy the ride. For now, isn’t it fun to be talking about tie-breaking scenarios for the PLAYOFFS?! FLY PELS FLY TO THE POSTSEASON YOU CAN DO IT

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The Night the Pelicans Created the HALKS

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I’m beginning this post with a picture of the pizza I had yesterday. That was a Domino’s Brooklyn style pizza that cost me all of $7.13, pre-tip. I agree with you, that’s a great deal! You can get half off any online order the day after any Pelicans victory. You may remember that last year that offer applied to Papa John’s. Maybe Papa John’s was worried the Pelicans were going to win too many games, so the team had to holler at our friends at Domino’s. Either way, I plan on the Pels ruining my diet over the next two-and-a-half months. One playoff berth and two chins is my motto. Yesterday I may or may not have eaten Domino’s TWICE, because the Pelicans’ win was just that tasty.

On Monday, the Pelicans played the Atlanta Hawks. Well, if you’re familiar with sports twitter, they were actually called the Atlanta HaWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWks. The Hawks were on a 19-game win streak, and as the wins started piling up, the team’s twitter account started adding Ws to its name to keep with the streak. On Monday, the team came to New Orleans to get their 20th consecutive W. AND ANTHONY DAVIS AND HIS HENCHMEN OF DESTRUCTION TURNED THEM INTO THE HALKS.

The Pelicans started off hot and never looked back. After taking a 16-14 lead with an Eric Gordon three in the first quarter, New Orleans never trailed again. They finished up by 10 after one quarter, extended it to 13 after two and ended up comfortably winning 115-100. It was a gorgeous team win against a team that plays gorgeous team ball. The Hawks are a relentless hydra of shooters and drivers who space the floor, move the ball and punish you wherever space is leftover. Monday, the Hawks weren’t quite at peak-Hawks levels, as the ball didn’t ping around side to side, and the team missed some open shots.

However, the Pelicans still played their asses off, fighting on defense and contesting most shots. While Jeff Teague got to the rim relentlessly, the Pelicans stuck to the outside shooters and trusted their rim protection to keep him from lighting the team up. Teague going 8-17 for 21 points will suffice when Paul Millsap and Al Horford combine to shoot 9 for 23. The home team followed up good defense by bodying the Hawks on the boards. The Pelicans outrebounded the Hawks 52-32, with Asik and AD combining to get 30 themselves. Asik had 17 to AD’s 13. He even went 2/2 on free throw trips twice in one half! I know, I know: CRAY.

The Pelicans’ competitive defense was supported by some pristine offense. The Pelicans sported a 55.2 effective Field Goal percentage.* That 55.2 eFG% would be better than the Warriors’ league-leading 54.2 eFG% over the season. The team’s ball movement had me thinking I had licked a toad before tipoff. Plays like this and that are how your team ends up with 30 assists on 43 baskets. Six Pels players scored in double digits, and Asik had nine. It was a wonderful performance by everyone involved.

But, as usual, this team was led by our sweet prince, the cyborg wunderkind known around here as Altron. Anthony Davis came out determined to change the Hawks’ twitter handle, scoring a nice eight in the first quarter. Then in the second quarter he decided it was time to embarrass people. Anthony dropped another 11 in the second frame to finish with a cool 19 and 7 at halftime. He finished with a 29-13-3AST-2BLK-1STL line, which is just another day at the office when you are the Destroyer of Worlds. He was hitting his jumper from outside, getting feeds for easy dunks and then doing it all on his own for putbacks. I mean, look at this shit:

Poor DeMarre Carroll. You came back after two games off and this is what you get greeted to. You never had any idea Basketball Predator was there, and then whoops now your life is over.

FACT: That putback proves that on the body hair ranking, unibrows are decidedly above dreadlocks.

FACT: When people in New Orleans make the sign of the cross, instead of touching our left and right shoulders we just touch our left and right eyebrows then pantomime scrunching them together.

FACT: Thank you Anthony you are perfect Anthony can I name my child Anthony Marshon Davis III even if you’re not the father please *goes and watches AD’s full Hawks highlights and blacks out*

…*wakes up to drool on pillow*

Okay, okay I’m back. Anyways, this was a wonderful win. It makes the Pelicans winners of six out of their last seven. This win followed Friday’s victory over the Clippers when our beaked heroes were missing both Jrue Holiday AND Altron. What’s best about this recent run is it looks like we’re finally seeing the growth we’ve been waiting for. After every frustrating loss to tanking teams, we kept hearing about how the Pelicans are young, how they still need time to gel.

Well, it looks like some gellin’ is happening. The offense looks smoother, as opposed to ugly hero-ball with guys waiting for each other to make a play. Tyreke is more comfortable as the lead ball handler, figuring out what space he gets with AD’s rolls and where his shooters are. Tyreke has had 12 or more assists in 4 out of the last 5 games. TYREKE EVANS, THE CREATOR/COMMISSIONER/MVP OF TYREKEBALL, HAS 12 ASSISTS IN FOUR OF THE LAST FIVE GAMES. Eric Gordon looks wonderful since his return from injury (more on that in another post), picking his spots and serving as a great spot up shooter and secondary ball handler. Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter have been great additions, stabilizing the Pelicans at the wing position and adding some toughness, athleticism and shooting at a spot the Pels desperately needed it. While this little run has occurred during a homestand, the team looks genuinely impressive. I’m excited to see them take their act on the road and make a push for the playoffs. Let’s hope the Pelicans can send my cholesterol skyrocketing through the roof.

*eFG% accounts for the extra value of a 3 point shot. So someone who shot only 2 pointers and made 50% of them would have the same eFG% as someone who solely shot 3 pointers and made 33.3% of them.