Pelicans, not Thunder, show they’re ready to tangle with West’s best

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Stephen Curry’s final shot rimmed in and out.

Now, the Pelicans go from out to in.

New Orleans outlasted the Warriors in a thriller, 103-100, tonight to jump the Thunder – who got blown out by the Spurs – for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Pelicans (42-35) both lead Oklahoma City (42-36) by a half game and hold the tiebreaker thanks to a 3-1 advantage in the season series.

After tonight, New Orleans might also claim the backing of unaffiliated basketball fans.

The Pelicans won’t beat Golden State in a seven-game series, but they could sure create a few fun games.

New Orleans still runs through Anthony Davis, who had 29 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks and two steals tonight. But with role players like Quincy Pondexter (20 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including 4-of-4 from beyond the arc) stepping up, New Orleans is a more complete team than the Thunder.

Sure, Russell Westbrook if a force. But slow him, and Oklahoma City crumbles.

San Antonio jumped to a 35-10 lead tonight while frustrating Westbrook to 1-of-6 shooting. The Spurs cruised to a 113-88 win, and Westbrook finished with just 17 points, two assists and two rebounds.

The Thunder have lost four straight overall and eight straight to Western Conference playoff teams.

The Pelicans haven’t been much better against top teams, using a recent four-game winning streak over the Kings, Timberwolves, Lakers and Kings to get back in the postseason race. But tonight’s win shows New Orleans might be blossoming at the right moment. Given its remaining schedule compared to Oklahoma City’s, it might have to be.

Pelicans:

  • at Grizzlies
  • vs. Suns
  • at Rockets
  • at Timberwolves
  • vs. Spurs

Thunder:

  • vs. Kings
  • at Pacers
  • vs. Trail Blazers
  • at Timberwolves

There are parallels between these Pelicans and the 2009-10 Thunder, who, as the No. 8 seed in their first postseason in years, pushed the top-seeded Lakers to six games. New Orleans has that same type of potential.

As good as Westbrook has played since Kevin Durant’s season-ending injury, can he alone really steal more than a game against the Warriors? As Golden State has shown all season, beating a complete team is much more difficult than beating an elite individual (though the Warriors have the advantage of possessing both).

The Pelicans might have needed a bad call to win tonight – and, more broadly, that bad call to make the playoffs. But they didn’t need that a favorable whistle to challenge Golden and create an exciting environment in New Orleans.

Once Durant and Serge Ibaka get healthy, Oklahoma City should be a force again next season. Westbrook will still have a major say in how this season ends for the Thunder, who are far from eliminated.

But right now, it looks like the Pelicans’ time.