Brian Allee-Walsh

Pencil the plucky Pelicans in the NBA playoffs at your own risk

Saints columnist Brian Allee-Walsh
Saints columnist Brian Allee-Walsh Biloxi

NEW ORLEANS

Yes, they can.

Despite falling into a 0-8 abyss to open the season, Coach Alvin Gentry, shining star Anthony Davis and the resurgent New Orleans Pelicans have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and joined the playoff race at the midway point of the NBA season.

Along with every other bottom-feeding team in the Western Conference.

Seven teams currently are lurking for the last playoff berth in the conference, all within sniffing distance of the eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers (18-24) going into Saturday night's games: Sacramento, New Orleans, Denver, Minnesota, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas and Phoenix.

Fewer than five games separated those eight teams.

Since losing their first eight in late October and early November, the battling Pels (16-25) have played near .500 ball over their last 33 games after losing Saturday at Chicago,107-99.

That may not sound like much if you're a fan of Golden State or Cleveland or San Antonio but we're talking about the Pelicans, man, the Pelicans.

They haven't seen the light of day above .500 since the end of the 2014-15 season when they snuck into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season as the No. 8 seed before being swept in four games by Golden State in the first round.

That's nothing. The Big Easy's NFL team hasn't seen the .500 mark since 2013 and has missed the playoffs the past three seasons under coach Sean Payton.

The path to the playoffs for the Pelicans appears to be pretty cut and dried. Barring a sudden infusion of talent and dramatic turnaround in the second half, their likely only entry into the playoffs will be as the eighth seed. Which means they probably would play the star-studded, highfalutin Warriors in a best-of-seven, opening round series.

Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

Be careful what you wish for, right?

First things first. The Pels have to make the playoffs and that's no guarantee, especially if Davis doesn't stay on the court. He missed Thursday night's 104-95 road victory against the inept Brooklyn Nets with an injured left hip, tweaked three nights earlier in a 14-point win against the floundering New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Davis continues to play at an All-Pro level and will be on full display at the NBA All-Star game on Feb. 19 at the Smoothie King Center, suggesting he once again will garner MVP votes at season's end. But AD can't do it alone. For the Pels to reach the postseason, he'll need help from a handful of complementary players du jour -- Jrue Holiday, Buddy Heil, Terrence Jones, Langston Galloway, Tyreke Evans, Dante Cunningham, Solomon Hill, E'Twaun Moore, Tim Frazier and the newly-acquired 7-footer, Donatas Motiejunas.

Take your pick.

So, can the Pelicans make the playoffs?

Yes, they can.

Will they?

Let me put it this way. If you write them in now, use a No. 2 pencil with an eraser.

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