The Western Conference may not be as strong as it once was, but the playoff race should still be a fun one. There are realistically 6 teams still mathematically alive for the highly-coveted eighth and final playoff spot. Whichever team winds up nabbing that spot will likely get thrashed by the Lakers in the first round, but just qualifying for the playoffs is an accomplishment.
Two of the teams still vying for the right to face LA in the opening around are the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. Everyone knows that the Pelicans have been playing well of late, but the Kings haven’t gotten a whole lot of buzz. Sacramento has dealt with a rash of injuries so far this season, but they have quietly won 7 of their last 10 games.
The Pels, of course, have been one of the most entertaining teams in basketball since Zion Williamson debuted over a month ago. There’s a chance they dug themselves into too deep a hole with their early-season struggles, but a 3.5-game gap between themselves and the Grizzlies isn’t insurmountable.
Wednesday night’s tilt between the Pelicans and Kings in Sacramento could have important playoff ramifications. The Pelicans check in as 2-point favorites in a game with a sizable 233 over/under at Bovada.
Pelicans and Kings are currently tied with Portland for ninth in the Western Conference
All 3 teams are 3.5 games behind the eighth-place Grizzlies for the last playoff spot
Pelicans beat Kings 117-115 in Sacramento on January 4
Lonzo’s Hot Streak
Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson have gotten most of the accolades for the Pelicans, as they should. Ingram has transformed himself into an All-Star this season, while Williamson is putting up incredible numbers for a rookie. They’re the faces of the Pelicans’ franchise now that Anthony Davis has moved on.
However, we should start appreciating the development of Lonzo Ball, too. Ball took his fair share of heat after struggling through a couple of seasons with the Lakers, but he has really started to come into his own now that he’s in New Orleans.
The UCLA product is averaging 12.4 points, 7 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game this season. Those are solid numbers, but he has really upped his play in recent games.
Through 5 games in March, Lonzo is up to 20.8 points, 7.8 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game. Those are superstar numbers. Arguably the most impressive aspect of Ball’s game has been his vast improvement with his shooting. The former No. 2 overall pick shot around 31 percent from 3-point range through each of his first 2 seasons with the Lakers. So far this season, Lonzo has improved his marksmanship to better than 38 percent from long range on even higher volume. His shooting has gone from being a liability to being a real strength in a very short amount of time.
Fox Driving the Kings
De’Aaron Fox often gets overshadowed by most of the other young players dominating the league these days because he plays in a relatively small market in Sacramento. However, the former Kentucky Wildcat has improved his production with each of his 3 seasons in the NBA, and he seems to keep getting better and better.
Fox has been limited to just 45 games this season due to injury, but he’s averaging a career-high in scoring (20.6 points) along with 6.8 assists per game on the year. The Kings are at their best when Fox is in the lineup and pushing the pace, and that’s obviously something they’ll need tonight considering the Pelicans are one of the fastest-paced teams in the entire league.
The Kings have really taken off since Luke Walton made the decision to start Bogdan Bogdanovic over Buddy Hield.
Hield has apparently bristled at times at the thought of a demotion, but the fact that the Kings have actually started winning games since Walton made the move means Buddy really can’t be too upset about it.
Over the last 10 games, the Kings rank a respectable ninth in the league in offensive efficiency. That’s quite a leap considering they rank 19th in the league in that same metric over the course of the entire season. Sacramento has also jumped up to 10th in defensive rating over the same span, which is also up from 19th on the season as a whole.
Pelicans vs Kings Pick
This has all the makings of a fun game between a couple of young teams battling it out for a chance to qualify for the playoffs. While the Kings have been hot of late, it’s still hard to bet against the Pelicans given the small spread here. They’re still without their best floor-spacer with JJ Redick injured, but the Pelicans’ cast of playmakers makes them a very alluring betting option on a nightly basis.
It’s really a matter of whether the defense can hold up. New Orleans has struggled in that regard on the season, but over the last 10 games they’re up to 10th in defensive efficiency. Ball and Jrue Holiday give the Pels a couple of capable defenders to throw in Fox’s direction, which could hamper the Kings’ ability to push the pace in transition.
I like the way New Orleans matches up here, which has me liking the idea of betting on the Pels to cover the modest 2-point spread on the road. This should be a high-scoring, competitive game, but the Pelicans seemingly have a clear edge. Bet on the Pels to cover on Wednesday night.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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