The Pelicans looked out of the postseason picture just a couple of weeks ago, but a spurt of five wins in eight games and five straight losses from the San Antonio Spurs have them just 1.5 games away from the 10th seed and a play-in tournament spot. The Spurs also have a game tomorrow against the Sacramento Kings, who are coming in with an impressive win streak. After tomorrow, the Pelicans could very well be just half a game away from the postseason with five games remaining on their schedule.
With the only human capable of wielding the Infinity Gauntlet leading them in Zion Williamson, New Orleans is probably the most poised to take the 10th seed. Williamson has developed from a wrecking ball to a wrecking ball with a passing IQ. Aside from averaging 27 points on an absurd 61 percent shooting, Zion has also been unlocked as the Pelicans' late-game playmaker -- drawing the three defenders necessary to contest his shot and finding his open teammates.
The Pelicans will be without Brandon Ingram tomorrow, but they should still have enough firepower with Lonzo Ball's renewed shooting touch and Eric Bledsoe's all-in approach to shot selection.
Though they reside on the polar opposite of the standings compared to the Pelicans, the Sixers also have plenty at stake tomorrow. Philadelphia currently sits atop the East, but the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks are just 2.5 and 3 games behind, respectively. With only a handful of games remaining, a couple more wins should seal the top spot for the Sixers, which means they may only have to face either the Nets or the Bucks in the Conference Finals. The East for the entire season has mostly been a three-team race at the top. Avoiding a fellow title favorite could give the Sixers the leeway to make their first NBA Finals since 2001.
Coming in with a six-game win streak, Philadelphia should be confident in their matchup against the Pelicans. With the league's move to smaller lineups, Zion has feasted on thinner frontcourts. But the Sixers have Joel Embiid, arguably the best defensive center in the league.
Embiid, who would still be in the MVP conversation if he did not miss 20 games, has had a career year under new head coach Doc Rivers, averaging 29.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.4 blocks a game. No one's been able to truly contain Embiid, who has improved on capitalizing on mismatches and double teams. The Embiid-Zion clash should look like when two rhinos fight for territory – a lot of high-impact collisions with nobody backing down.
If Embiid and Williamson cancel each other out, the Sixers should have the advantage in terms of supporting cast with Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris always making an impact on both ends. Even Shake Milton, Danny Green, and Matisse Thybulle could potentially alter the game coming off the bench.
Almost every game tomorrow has important playoff implications. Whether you’re at the top like the Sixers or the bottom like the Pelicans, seeding matters. The playoffs are still a couple of weeks away, but expect a playoff-like atmosphere tomorrow.