Well, at least one of those Western Conference series went the way we expected it to. The defending NBA champions, and back to back-to-back Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors easily handled the San Antonio Spurs en route to a 4-1 series win.
What most people didn’t expect was for the New Orleans Pelicans to beat the Portland Trail Blazers, let alone sweep them. It wasn’t particularly close either. The Pelicans might have only won a single game by double digits, but they held a ten-point lead at some point in every single game of the series. It is New Orleans’ first playoff series win since 2008, when they beat the Dallas Mavericks, and were led by Chris Paul. This one, no one could have seen coming.
But now we’re on to a new series, so let’s focus on that. The Warriors won the season series against the Pelicans 3-1, but the Pelicans won the most recent meeting on April 7th, 126-120. Point guard Stephen Curry did not play in that game, and as of right now, his status is still unknown for the second round. However, the Warriors have been doing fine without Curry, just as the Pelicans are doing fine without injured star DeMarcus Cousins.
A huge performance from their Big Three (Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, and Anthony Davis) led to the dramatic New Orleans sweep. Guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum looked nothing like their regular season selves, and Jusuf Nurkic couldn’t pick up enough of the slack.
At this point, everyone knows that it’s near impossible to stop Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green from scoring in bunches. In order to beat them, you need to be able to weather an offensive storm, and give it right back. Out-rebounding them is essential, especially when they have their small lineup in. The Pelicans have an advantage over most of the NBA here, as they can put the ball in the basket, and were ranked third in points per game in the regular season.
For the Pelicans to increase their chances of advancing (ESPN’s BPI gives them a 13% chance at the moment), they’ll need to keep Davis and Nikola Mirotic on the court together for as long as they can. That will help give them some of the size they need to potentially stay ahead of Golden State. The problem lies when they can’t do that, as surrounding Davis with a bunch of guards will play right into the Warriors’ hands. If DeMarcus Cousins was able to come back for the series, that would help immensely, but right now it isn’t an option. The Warriors have better depth than the Pelicans, and I’d trust Shaun Livingston and Quinn Cook over Solomon Hill and Ian Clark.
On paper, the Warriors should win this series, but if the games were played on paper, the Pelicans wouldn’t be here right now. After the first round, some people are seeing New Orleans as a sleeper pick, but Golden State probably has too much overall talent for the Pelicans to deal with.
Prediction: Warriors in six