Three years after trading away Chris Paul, the New Orleans Pelicans have reached the postseason for the first time since 2011 – and they did it in dramatic fashion.
Anthony Davis had 31 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in a 108-103 win over San Antonio on Wednesday to hold off the Oklahoma City Thunder and clinch the final playoff spot in the West. The 22-year-old Davis, considered by many a top-five player in the NBA, will play postseason minutes for the first time in his career. The Pelicans (45-38) face the Warriors (67-15) in Oakland this Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.
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“Well, they got a lot of help,” CBS Sports NBA insider Zach Harper pointed out on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Kevin Durant’s injury and Serge Ibaka’s injury definitely helped keep the Thunder below expectations. But we have an injured team every season, and it’s on someone else to take advantage of that and the Pelicans did it. They did a really risky strategy. After they drafted Anthony Davis, they traded Nerlens Noel and a first-round pick for Jrue Holiday. They traded another first-round pick for Omer Asik. They’ve really taken some risks that could cost (general manager) Dell Demps his job, cost (head coach) Monty Williams his job – and it just ended up paying off. It’s just something where they had a vision, they tried to execute it, and it ended up working out – and whether it worked out by default or by just the fact that they were that good, they’re in the playoffs.”
The Thunder, meanwhile, finished with the same record as New Orleans but missed the playoffs due to a tiebreaker. Some wonder if Scott Brooks will be fired as a result, but Harper doesn’t think that will be the case.
“I think that they’ve liked him for so long,” Harper said, “and it seems like the job he’s done with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant seems to respect him. I think that they will have the real understanding, the perspective of this team is only in the lottery because of the injuries – because they lost the MVP for so many games, because they lost a Defensive Player of the Year candidate for so many games. They tried to piece it together and they made some moves that will bolster that roster for the future. I think they’ll give Scott Brooks another chance to come back and really coach this team back to being a title contender – unless they’re worried about losing Kevin Durant and they start thinking that Durant wants a new coach. But I don’t really see that happening.”
As for this year’s MVP, Harper believes it’s a two-horse race between Golden State’s Steph Curry and Houston’s James Harden.
“I don’t know how you pick,” Harper said. “Between James Harden and Steph Curry, they both have excellent cases. James Harden, with all the injuries that they had . . . led them to a 2-seed in the Western Conference that has been so good that we’ve had this conversation that we need to get rid of conference altogether. So that’s got to count for something. On the other hand, Steph Curry has not only been an incredible player, but he’s been a guy that has led this team to a point where they don’t have to play fourth quarters. They don’t have to grind out those clutch minutes and get victories. They’re resting their players more than they probably need to, and that sets them up for a deep playoff run, a chance at the title. So what do you find more valuable? I don’t think you can go wrong.”