The most exciting bit of news surrounding the NBA's schedule release for the resumption of the 2019-20 season (besides the basic return of basketball, of course) was that fans were going to get to watch the battle for the eighth seed in the Western Conference we were promised before the season was put on hold. The Memphis Grizzles currently hold the last postseason spot and lead the Portland Trail Blazers by 3.5 games. Portland, the New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, and the San Antonio Spurs are all within a game and a half of each other for the ninth seed.
They will all be going to Orlando (along with the Phoenix Suns, who are six games back of Memphis) to duke it out for that final spot. Each team brings its own strengths to the table, but you wouldn't be met with much resistance if you argued the Pelicans are the most exciting team of the bunch. Most casual fans are rooting for the group of youngsters from the Big Easy to steal that playoff spot and face off against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Those series are usually a steamrolling by the top seed anyway, so why not give us some fun at the same time?
The likelihood of that happening increased today when the Spurs announced LaMarcus Aldridge underwent surgery and would miss the remainder of the season. You can never count out San Antonio and Gregg Popovich, but without Aldridge, their 22-year postseason streak is much more probable to end.
The Pelicans probably need to win at least five of their eight remaining games to stay within four games of Memphis and invoke a play-in series for the final seed of the playoffs. That is very much within the realm of possibility. While the details of who New Orleans will play still need to be fully ironed out, the Clippers were the only top seed remaining on their schedule. The Pelicans will be playing mostly lower seeded teams, including San Antonio at least once, and Aldridge cooked New Orleans last time they saw each other. His absence will be helpful for the young guns.
A lot of jokes and half-jokes have been made about the NBA creating the best possible scenario for New Orleans because the league wants Zion Williamson in the playoffs to draw viewers. There is no larger conspiracy at play here, but the way things have shaken out, the stars are aligning for Williamson to make his postseason debut. Even if the Lakers sweep the Pelicans in four games, Zion will give us at least a handful of jaw-dropping highlights -- and that's not even thinking about what he'll do in the eight (at least) games leading up to a potential playoff appearance.
New Orleans still has a long way to go. There will be very little room for error, and a young teams like the Pelicans are prone to making the little mistakes that cost them dearly in the long run. But we will get to see them try, and it will make basketball's return all the better.