Pelicans Return to Familiar Situation, Opponent for Play-In

New Orleans Pelicans vs Oklahoma City Thunder

The New Orleans Pelicans are in the NBA’s play-in tournament for the second consecutive season, and the circumstances are remarkably similar to what they faced a year ago.

In 2022, the Pelicans were ninth in the Western Conference at the conclusion of the regular season. After suffering through a four-game losing streak in early March, New Orleans won 9 of its final 14 games to fight its way into the play-in tournament, where they would host a divisional opponent (San Antonio Spurs) that finished two games behind them in the opening round.

This season, the Pelicans are once again ninth in the West. After dropping three of four in early March, New Orleans claimed victory nine times over its last 12 games to secure a spot in the play-in. The Pels are hosting a divisional opponent, this time the Oklahoma City Thunder, that finished two games behind them during the regular season.

The team and its fans have to be hoping for the same success that they, and other 9th-seeded teams have experienced, once again.

Since the inception of the play-in following the pandemic-interrupted, 2019-20 season, the 9th-place team has done exceptionally well. Only once (Memphis, 2020) has the ninth seed failed to win the first game. And, only two of the five 9th-seeded teams have failed to advance to the playoffs.

Year9th-seed W/L Game 19th-seed W/L Game 29th-seeed Winning %
Total4-1 (.800)3-1 (.750)7-2 (.777)
NBA Play-In Results for 9/10 Game since 2020

Last season, the Pelicans defeated the Spurs and Clippers to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017-18. If they can survive this gauntlet once again, they will have consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 2008 and 2009.

New Orleans won three of four against the Thunder this season, but the Thunder have been a very worthy adversary for the Pelicans.

Over the course of those four games, the Thunder outscored the Pelicans 436-432 and just one of their losses was by more than three points.




The biggest key to the series has been turnovers. The Pelicans are committing 21 turnovers per game against the Thunder and gave it away at least 18 times in each of the games between them during the regular season. New Orleans was 7-12 when they committed 17 or more turnovers overall, 3-1 against OKC. No one on the roster was immune from the turnover bug, either. Brandon Ingram had six giveaways in a 3-point win over the Thunder on Feb. 13. It was the only game this year that the Pels won when B.I. had that many (1-5). CJ McCollum (4.0), Trey Murphy III (2.0), Jonas Valanciunas (3.0), and Herbert Jones (2.3) each averaged more turnovers against the Thunder than they did for the season. In the 96-110 loss to OKC on Mar. 11, the Pels gave it up 22 times. Every possession counts even more in the postseason, so the Pelicans have to value the basketball if they expect to live to play another day.


Last year, the Pelicans were the team on the rise. They weren’t burdened by expectations. This year, everyone in their main rotation outside of Dyson Daniels has playoff experience. The Thunder are the new kids on the block who have nothing to lose. The Pelicans have to play with the confidence of a favorite, but the desperation of a team that still has much to prove.


In basketball, more than any of the major team sports, the very best players are the ones that win the championships. Stars are expected to perform on the biggest stage. Each team has one All-Star; Brandon Ingram for the Pelicans and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the Thunder. Ingram has been here. In two play-in victories last season, he averaged 28.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists, while shooting 62.0 percent from the floor. While the Pelicans got off to a 2-2 start against the Suns in the first round of the playoffs, B.I upped those numbers to 29.8, 6.8., and 5.3 while still shooting 51 percent overall and 50 percent from beyond the arc. CJ McCollum is hurting, and Trey Murphy is still maturing into his role. Brandon Ingram has to lead the Pelicans to victory.

Defensively, the Pelicans have to slow down SGA. Most importantly, they have to avoid sending him to the free throw line. Of the 33.5 points he averaged against the Pelicans this season, 11 of them came at the charity stripe. The two teams were relatively even in free throw attempts, so decreasing his total in the slightest could mean the difference between the exhilaration of victory or the agony of defeat.

Who: (9) New Orleans Pelicans vs (10) Oklahoma City Thunder

When: April 12, 8:30 PM CDT

Where to Watch: ESPN

Where to Listen: WRNO 99.5 FM

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