By: Jack Henkels
With the first real blockbuster trade of the NBA season, the Western Conference playoff picture – and beyond – could really get shook up.
Coming out of the all-star break, the new-look Pelicans stand 2.5 games out of the 8-spot in the West. Let’s be clear: They have no chance of finishing higher than 8th. If the Thunder play .500 basketball the rest of the way, that means New Orleans has to go 23-2 to capture the 7 seed. It’s not happening – so let’s focus on that 8th spot.
Right now, Denver’s clinging to the final playoff spot. They just sent Jusuf Nurkic to Portland for Mason Plumlee, and Nikola Jokic has inserted himself into the “Unicorn” conversation over the past few weeks. But, “I can’t believe I’m still alive, let alone playing in the NBA” Jameer Nelson still runs the point, and Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are still just too erratic to form any sort of formidable backcourt. Expect them to falter down the stretch like any other young team.
Right behind the Nuggets are the Kings. And, well, they just traded DeMarcus Cousins, so their best player is now Darren Collison. Maybe Willie Cauley-Stein. Depends on who you ask, I guess, but they’re not going anywhere.
Then, there’s the ever-disappointing Portland Trailblazers who can’t defend anything. They rely too heavily on Dame, CJ, or both going bananas every night to win games. Also, with Plumlee gone, an Ed Davis/Jusuf Nurkic doesn’t really feel like a playoff duo.
And then there’s the Pelicans. Who although are separated by 2 teams from the 8-spot, now have the best frontcourt in the league and a severely underrated point guard. My guess is that AD and Boogie click almost immediately, New Orleans overcomes their lackluster wing-play (Dante Cunningham and E’Twaun Moore aren’t exactly terrifying), and they sneak into the playoffs and face Golden State in the first round.
This is legitimately everything I’ve ever wanted as a basketball fan.
For now, let’s just solely focus on the potential crunch-time lineups for each team in this series. For the Warriors, they’ll likely run their vaunted “lineup of death” down the stretch.
Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson/Kevin Durant/Draymond Green/Andre Iguodala (if he’s still a functioning NBA player, which is somewhat in doubt)
Jrue Holiday/E’Twaun Moore/Solomon Hill/Anthony Davis/DeMarcus Cousins
I have no idea who guards who on either end of the floor. I can’t imagine Golden State is going to mark Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins with Iguodala and Draymond respectively – I just don’t see how that works. On the other end of the floor, you can probably get away with sticking Boogie in the corner with Iguodala, but then who does AD mark? Durant? Draymond?
Personally, I’m yearning for a Durant/AD matchup. I don’t know if Davis can stick with Durant (I mean, who really can?) but it’s going to be fun as hell to find out.
I’m dreaming of Klay guarding Jrue around an AD and Boogie double screen with Durant and Draymond hedging. Five of those six (!!!) players we’re 2017 all-stars, and while Jrue didn’t make the cut in 2017, he was a one-time all-star four years ago. That’s six NBA all-stars colliding in a double-high screen set in the first found of the playoffs. This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
As a whole, I see the Pelicans really only using Jrue, AD, and Boogie on offense while sticking their wings in the corners. In Sacramento, Boogie was a one-man show, and still managed to bully his way in the lane for what seemed like 50 points a night. In New Orleans? With the floor spaced by Davis, Holiday, and two shooters? Boogie might go for 70 every night.
And that’s not even touching on Anthony Davis. That man will have an endless supply of open mid-range jumpers – a novelty concept for a guy who usually has defenders draped all over him.
Boogie and Davis together are a matchup nightmare for everyone in the league. I really think it’s gonna work out well for both. Jrue Holiday has had an underrated great year, and I’m excited for him to get to play with two of the league’s best. The stretch run of this season will be fun, and we all need to root for New Orleans so we can see AD/Boogie try and slay the Lineup of Death over a seven-game series. Stranger things have happened.