In the NBA — as in most sports — any team can beat any other team on any given night. For example, in 2011-12, the Charlotte Bobcats, who won just seven games that year, managed a win over the Miami Heat, who would go on to win the championship. So, one win isn’t the biggest deal in the world. Still, the New Orleans Pelicans should be beaming with joy after their surprising win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.
It was a painfully close game — the kind the Blazers have been really good at winning this year — as the Pelicans squeaked by 110-108 on a long 2 by Tyreke Evans with 1.2 seconds on the clock. It was a thoroughly impressive win for the Pelicans, considering they were without two of their starters, as Eric Gordon and Jason Smith both sat out the game. It was also a defining moment for Evans, who has officially shaken off his rocky start and become an essential part of this team. Furthermore, the 24-7 Blazers were coming off a similarly brutal loss to the Miami Heat, when Chris Bosh hit a game-winning 3. The Blazers likely planned to exact their frustrations on what appeared to be an inferior Pelicans team, but thanks to brilliant performances by Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis, who scored 27 points each, New Orleans was able to pull of a surprising victory.
So, what does this mean for the Pelicans. By itself, not much. Upsets happen in the regular season and it’s not the biggest deal in the world. It hardly means the Pelicans would defeat the Blazers in a theoretical playoff series. With that said, we can’t completely ignore the result of this game; coming away with a win against one of the league’s best team should be a huge confidence boost for the Pelicans. Not simply because they won the game, but because of how they won it. This wasn’t a a case of catching the Blazers when they were tired or off their guard. For comparison’s sake, the Minnesota Timberwolves also defeated the Blazers recently, but that came in a game where Portland was on the second night of a back-to-back and was clearly fatigued to start the game. This time, however, it was different, as LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard all played well. For comparison’s sake, the Minnesota Timberwolves also defeated the Blazers recently, but that came in a game where Portland was on the second night of a back-to-back and was clearly fatigued to start the game. The killer combo of Holiday and Davis simply wound up being better.
The Blazers are currently 10th in the Western Conference, three games behind the Dallas Mavericks for the eighth seed. With Davis healthy once again, the Pelicans have a legitimate shot at reaching the postseason, but the play the ridiculously tough Western Conference. That will mean a lot of difficult games like Monday’s against Portland going forward. The biggest question to consider when looking at the Pelicans playoff chances is if they’ll be able to withstand the onslaught of games against the likes of the Spurs, Clippers, Rockets, thunder, Warriors, and yes, the Blazers. Mondays win suggests they have what it takes to stay in the hunt. They aren’t going to pull of the last-second win every time, but they aren’t going to wilt from the pressure either.