A bunched up Western Conference has the New Orleans Pelicans knowing there is plenty to play for with two games remaining in the regular season.
With a victory Monday at Los Angeles against the Clippers, the Pelicans would move one win away from clinching at least the No. 5 seed in the conference. They could even move up to No. 4 with a little help from opponents playing the Utah Jazz, who are currently in fourth place.
But the jammed pack conference also means a backward slide could take a heavy toll. The Pelicans were officially fifth in the conference before Sunday's games, with teams in fifth, sixth (Spurs), and seventh (Thunder) all possessing 46-34 records.
Denver was in ninth place in the conference, just outside a playoff spot, but was just one game behind the Pelicans in the standings.
If anything, the Pelicans are soaring into Los Angeles behind their hard-earned victory at Golden State on Saturday.
"Knowing this was like a playoff game and a playoff atmosphere, knowing where we are in the playoff race and knowing we haven't won (at Golden State) in a while, (it) was a big confidence booster," Pelicans forward Anthony Davis said, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "We knew we'd probably have to win four games of the last five to make sure we solidify a spot in the playoffs."
It remains to be seen what type of Clippers team the Pelicans will run into. Monday's matchup had been shaping up to be a big one between Western Conference playoff contenders, but a recent Clippers slide officially eliminated them from their seventh consecutive playoff appearance.
The Clippers (42-38) could be a team intent on showing they still have something to prove, even if the playoffs are out of the question, or they could exhale knowing their late-season chase has ended.
The Clippers might have lost four of their last five games, but after considering what he might do with the season winding down, coach Doc Rivers suggested that his team will not treat the Pelicans with indifference.
"We have two games left and I don't even know how I'm going to approach those games," Rivers told the assembled media after Saturday's loss to the Nuggets. "I may play all the starters, I may play all the young guys and just let them get minutes.
"I think I have to play the guys against New Orleans, honestly. I think we really have to go after that game. I just believe in protecting the league. That's what we should do, and I hope we do that."
The Clippers will conclude the season with four point guards on injured reserve: Patrick Beverley (knee), Avery Bradley (groin), Milos Teodosic (foot) and Jawun Evans (abdomen). Even leading scorer Lou Williams is ailing with an ankle injury and was listed as day-to-day. Forward Danilo Gallinari is also day-to-day with a hand injury.
The Pelicans have made their playoff push despite losing DaMarcus Cousins (Achilles) for the season. Guard Ian Clark is dealing with an ankle injury.
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