What seemed impossible when New Orleans Pelicans forward DeMarcus Cousins season ended with a ruptured left Achilles after 48 games became reality Monday night.
The Pelicans are in the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Just more than a week after they were reeling from a four-game losing streak, the Pels won their fourth straight game and clinched a Western Conference playoff by completing a perfect three-game West Coast road trip with a 113-100 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.
All that’s left in the regular season for the 47-34 Pels is a Wednesday night home date against San Antonio. A win over the Spurs could further improve New Orleans’ playoff position.
Now that the Pels are in the playoffs, they won’t waste much time celebrating.
It’s great to be in the playoffs, but it doesn’t mean much if you get swept 4-0 as the Pels did in the ’15 first-round by the eventual NBA champions Golden State Warriors.
No matter who the Pels play this time around, they can’t allow to a repeat perfomance.
In fact, the way these Pels have played this season, especially with a 24-17 road record against Western Conference opponents (the third best road record in the West), there’s no reason to believe that the Pels can’t win a first-round series.
That might sound ludicrous until you start snooping around the top of the Western Division. There’s not a dominant team that gives the aura it can’t be touched.
West top seed Houston is 64-16 but the Rockets have been knocked out of the playoffs three times in the first round in the last five years.
Second-seed Golden State (58-23) has had so many injuries that it hasn’t come close to the virtually unbeatable team of sharpshooters it has been the last few years.
The rest of the teams qualified so far – Portland, Utah, San Antonio and Oklahoma City – simply aren’t good enough for the Pelicans to fear, not the way New Orleans has played lately.
If you don’t believe something can happen like a No. 8 seed beating a No. 1 seed, I personally witnessed it when I worked in Memphis.
The Grizzlies, 0-12 in three playoff appearances in 2004-05-06, didn’t make the playoffs again until 2011.
That’s when as the No. 8 seed, they handled No. 1 seed San Antonio in the first round of the West playoffs and then lost to Oklahoma City in seven games in the West semis.
The 2011 success by the Grizzlies led to seven straight seasons in the playoffs, a streak that ended this year.
The Pels have shown in the last month they have enough weapons and a developing bench to beat anybody, and maybe establish a playoff run similar to the Griz.
The final piece of the Pels plan finally fell in place on this road trip with previously-struggling Nikola Mirotic catching fire and becoming the frontcourt running partner that All-Star forward Anthony Davis has missed since Cousins’ injury.
The way Mirotic has played since shaving his beard at the start of the current four-game win streak – averaging just 27 points and 11 rebounds – any Pel sensing a slump may want to also shave body parts.
Back in 2015, the Pelicans seemed happy just to be in the playoffs. The moment was too big for that team, one not used to playoff intensity.
Nothing is too enormous for these Pels. For the last month, every game has had playoff intensity because of the ridiculously tight Western Conference race.
So when the playoffs open this weekend, it shouldn’t be a big deal for the Pels. Instead, it will be business as usual.