With just two and a half weeks left in the NBA regular season, teams are clinching playoff spots left and right. However, there are still plenty of spots open for the postseason, which is a relief considering that if the playoffs started today no former Hoosiers would be playing. Last year the only former Hoosier was Cody Zeller who made the playoffs with the Charlotte Hornets, then known as the Bobcats. Unfortunately, the Hornets have faded recently and will need a strong finish and some luck to return to the postseason. Meanwhile, Eric Gordon and the New Orleans Pelicans also need a strong finish and some luck to play into late April. Let’s analyze both teams’ chances as well as recap how everyone played this past week:
Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:
Vs Houston (L 95-93): 6 points (0-5 FG)(6-8 FT), 3 assists, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 42 minutes.
Vs Sacramento (W 102-88): 4 points (2-6 FG), 4 assists, 2 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 20 minutes.
Vs Minnesota (W 110-88): 12 points (5-8 FG)(1-2 FT), 3 rebounds, 7 assists, steal, 4 turnovers, 2 personal fouls, 30 minutes.
Team Standings: New Orleans Pelicans – 9th in the Western Conference (39-34)
Teams Ahead: Oklahoma City Thunder – 8th in the Western Conference (41-32), 2.5 game lead over NOP
Teams Behind: Phoenix Suns – 10th in Western Conference (38-35), 1.5 games behind NOP
Trending: 5-5 in their last 10 games, won two in a row. When comparing the Pelicans’ playoff situation to the Hornets’ situation, the Pelicans’ path seems easier. The Pelicans only have to jump the Thunder in the standings, who just this past week shut down the reigning MVP Kevin Durant. Yet Russell Westbrook has carried that team down the stretch and while he probably isn’t going to win MVP, he deserves to be in the discussion. The reality is that the Pelicans will not only need Westbrook to break down, but they’ll also need Anthony Davis to jump another level these last few weeks. As for Gordon, he has basically been relegated to a role player but still an important role player at that. If the Pelicans are to make the playoffs, they’ll need the occasional turn-back-the-clock performance from Gordon, who has struggled lately. It’s just hard to believe that at what should be the prime of his career (he’s only 26 years old!) he has become a complementary player rather than the star he could have been without those injuries.
Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:
Game Log: @ Chicago (L 98-86), vs Brooklyn (L 91-88), @ Washington (L 110-107), vs Atlanta (W 115-100).
Noah Vonleh: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:
@ Chicago (L 98-86): 2 points (1-1 FG), rebound, 1 minute.
Team Standings: Charlotte Hornets – 11th in the Eastern Conference (31-41)
Teams Ahead: Miami Heat – 7th in the Eastern Conference (34-39), 2.5 game lead over CHA
Brooklyn Nets – 8th in the Eastern Conference (32-40), 1 game lead over CHA
Boston Celtics & Indiana Pacers – tied for 9th in the Eastern Conference (32-41), 0.5 game lead over CHA
Teams Behind: Detroit Pistons – 12th in the Eastern Conference (28-45), 3.5 games behind CHA
Trending: 3-7 in their last 10 games, won last game after losing three in a row.
The middle of the Eastern Conference is a complete logjam, and not in a good way. It’s very possible that the East could field three playoff teams who lost more games than they won during the season. With the last two playoff seeds changing more often than the stock market, it’s anyone’s guess who will end up with those final spots. Yet as weird as it sounds, it is also the reason why I like the Hornets’ playoff chances more than the Pelicans’. Over the past month and a half, the final spot in the Western Conference has been held by the Thunder about 90% of the time, with the Pelicans briefly taking over and immediately falling back to ninth on a few occasions. The Hornets had also been in control of the final spot of the Eastern Conference for the majority of the last month and a half but have found themselves falling apart near the finish line. If the Hornets can get back on track, they might be able to sneak back into the playoffs for the second year in a row. The first step is bringing back Zeller, who has missed nine of Charlotte’s last ten games. His ability to play both powers forward and center while providing scoring and sound defense at both positions has been greatly missed. At the end of the day, two of those six teams listed above will be in the playoffs. Why not the Hornets?
Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:
Vs Atlanta (L 95-83): 16 points (4-10 FG)(8-9 FT), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 5 turnovers, personal foul, 39 minutes.
Vs Detroit (L 111-97): 16 points (6-10 FG)(3-3 FT), 3 rebounds, 7 assists, steal, block, 3 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 36 minutes.
Team Standings: Orlando Magic – 13th in the Eastern Conference (22-52), eliminated.
The Orlando Magic were finally eliminated from playoff contention only recently, which again points to how sad the Eastern Conference is after you get past the top five teams. The Magic were supposed to take a huge step forward this year, but this team was just as bad as the previous one. They have the pieces but for some reason, they aren’t fitting together. Victor Oladipo continues to light it up on offense while still playing great defense, but many of the Magic players are only good at one side of the court. Despite there being a lot of talent, Oladipo won’t be making the playoffs until the Magic have more two-way players.
Eric Gordon: 13.1ppg, 2.7rpg, 4.0apg, 0.85spg, 0.25bpg, 2.2tpg, 2.4fpg, 41.1% FG, 44.2% 3FG, 81.1% FT, 33.4mpg.
Cody Zeller: 7.6ppg, 5.8rpg, 1.6apg, 0.56spg, 0.79bpg, 1.0tpg, 2.5fpg, 46.1% FG, 100.0% 3FG, 77.4% FT, 24.0mpg.
Noah Vonleh: 2.3ppg, 2.1rpg, 0.1apg, 0.13spg, 0.38bpg, 0.3tpg, 0.4fpg, 41.4% FG, 20.0% 3FG, 75.0% FT, 6.8mpg.
Victor Oladipo: 17.7ppg, 4.2rpg, 4.1apg, 1.66spg, 0.22bpg, 2.8tpg, 2.6fpg, 44.3% FG, 34.3% 3FG, 83.2% FT, 35.2mpg.
Christian Watford: Forward, Reno Bighorns (D-League affiliate of the Sacramento Kings):
Vs Sioux Falls (L 121-118): 5 points (1-4 FG)(2-2 FT), 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, block, 2 turnovers, 27 minutes.
Will Sheehey: Forward, Los Angeles D-Fenders (D-League affiliate of the Los Angeles Lakers):
Vs Oklahoma City (W 106-105): 15 points (6-11 FG), rebound, assist, steal, 2 turnovers, 33 minutes.
Vs Fort Wayne (L 135-128): 8 points (4-12 FG), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 personal fouls, 32 minutes.
Vs Fort Wayne (W 108-106): 19 points (6-9 FG)(7-8 FT), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 36 minutes.
D-League Season averages:
Christian Watford: 10.6ppg, 5.6rpg, 1.6apg, 0.70spg, 0.45bpg, 1.7tpg, 1.5fpg, 38.8% FG, 30.8% 3FG, 76.3% FT, 26.5mpg
Will Sheehey: 8.8ppg, 3.3rpg, 1.3apg, 0.53spg, 0.13bpg, 0.5tpg, 1.6fpg, 44.0% FG, 34.4% 3FG, 92.6% FT, 24.9mpg.