The force awakens
There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it?
It’s a feeling we in Louisiana have been without for years. And when I say years, I mean a whole decade.
It’s venturing into late April, and basketball is still alive. And it’s not just alive, it’s being fueled by real hope—hope for success, hope for victory, hope for the future.
Yes, there is actually meaningful April basketball being played here in Louisiana, and it’s wonderful. It’s something we haven’t sniffed since a young Chris Paul was leading the Hornets to 56 wins and a trip to the second round of the playoffs.
Ten years later, it’s the same franchise, but with a different name and a different superstar leading the resurgence.
Anthony Davis and the Pelicans have made the postseason. It’s the team’s first playoff appearance in three years, but things are different in 2018.
The last time New Orleans made the playoffs, they limped into the field. They earned the No. 8 seeding in the Western Conference, which awarded them a first-round matchup with top-seeded Golden State—the eventual world champion.
There were no expectations whatsoever. There was no hope. Everyone knew they would not just lose the series, but they would get blown out of the water.
And that’s exactly what happened. New Orleans was a little more competitive than originally thought, but in the end, they were swept and eliminated in just four games.
But things are different this year.
No longer is New Orleans just happy to make the playoffs. No longer are they playing the “Let’s see who wants to get swept by Golden State” sweepstakes. This time, they’re in it to win it.
Now, I won’t get ahead of myself here, become a prisoner of the moment and actually entertain the idea of them winning it all. They simply don’t have the horses to pull off that feat.
However, it’s such a treat to finally see the franchise earn a playoff spot. Yes, they earned that spot. They didn’t sneak in through the back door or make the field by default.
The Pelicans were playing some of the best basketball in the league during the latter half of the season. They worked their butts off to finish in that No. 6 slot.
And now that they have made the playoffs as the sixth seed, they are no longer stuck in a first-round matchup that comes with the kiss of death. They are no longer sacrificial lambs.
They aren’t stuck playing top seed Houston in the first round. They aren’t stuck playing defending champion Golden State in the first round.
They’ll play the third-seeded Trail Blazers. Yes, they’re the higher seed, but record-wise, they were only one game better than the Pelicans during the regular season.
The two teams met four times this year. They split those games. Translation: The Pelicans have a legit shot of bringing the franchise its first playoff series victory in a decade.
Regardless of what happens, it’s been fun to see what New Orleans has been able to do this season—specifically in the second half of the schedule.
The way they opened the year, it looked like it was going to be the same old Pelicans—playing down to the competition, losing to teams they had no business losing to, and then DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the season.
Head coach Alvin Gentry has received plenty of flack over the last two years, and deservingly so, but give him credit for keeping the team afloat. But give most of the credit to Davis.
What Davis did once Cousins went down has been MVP-worthy. His brilliance saved the team, saved Gentry’s job and created a buzz in New Orleans that hasn’t been felt there since that 2008 Hornets run.
The Pelicans went 20-8 down the stretch and won their final five games.
Since the All-Star break, Davis is averaging 29 points and 11 rebounds per contest.
And guys have stepped up around him—guys like Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo. A guy like Nikola Mirotic has emerged as one of their top scorers, averaging 21 points per game in their final five wins.
The Saints turned 7-9 into a division title and playoff run. Now the Pelicans are back in the postseason with hope. What a great time for Louisiana professional sports.