OAKLAND, Calif. — Two teams that could be first-round opponents in the upcoming NBA playoffs square off Saturday night when the New Orleans Pelicans take on the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors (57-22) are locked into the No. 2 seeding in the Western Conference. They will have the home-court advantage against the seventh seed in the first round starting next weekend.
The Pelicans (45-34), meanwhile, are among six teams battling for the final five playoff spots in the West. They will begin the day Saturday tied with San Antonio (45-34) and Oklahoma City (45-34) for fifth place, with Minnesota (45-35) and Denver (44-35) close behind.
One of the five won’t make the postseason.
New Orleans, which is seeking its first playoff spot since 2015, will be playing the second day of a back-to-back, having won 122-103 at Phoenix on Friday.
The Pelicans have lost three straight to Golden State this season by an average of 11 points.
New Orleans has a tough finishing schedule. The Pelicans will visit the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, then host San Antonio in a game that could have huge playoff implications on Wednesday.
In a virtual must-win against their final weak opponent, the Pelicans took care of business on Friday night, riding 33 points from Anthony Davis and 31 from Nikola Mirotic without burning any starter for more than 35 minutes.
Davis has averaged 30.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in two straight wins for the Pelicans after they had slipped in the playoff chase with four consecutive losses.
The Most Valuable Player candidate insisted recently that having meaningful games in April is enjoyable.
“I haven’t been to the playoffs in three years,” he noted. “This whole process is fun for me and the whole team, knowing that we, one, control our own destiny, and, two, have a chance to go in the playoffs and make some noise.”
New Orleans could certainly help its chances and send a message at the same time with a win Saturday. The Warriors have dominated the matchup, winning 10 straight and 20 of 21.
And that doesn’t count the 2015 playoffs, when the Warriors swept the Pelicans in four straight.
This time around, the Warriors almost surely will open their first series without star point guard Stephen Curry, who is out with a sprained MCL. He is scheduled for a re-examination on the eve of the start of the playoffs next week.
The Warriors have had their other three All-Stars — Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green — healthy for their last four games. But while they’ve won three of those four, coach Steve Kerr was especially bothered by a 126-106 drubbing his club suffered Thursday night at Indiana, labeling the effort “pathetic.”
Veteran Shaun Livingston agreed.
“We’ve got to be better,” he said. “Tonight, we were off. But we can’t be off as far as our effort, our intensity. That’s what we’re playing for going into the playoffs.”
The Warriors do have one piece of unfinished business in the regular season. They are currently tied with Toronto (57-22) for the second-best record in the league.
Regular-season records would determine the home-court advantage should the Warriors and Raptors meet in the NBA Finals.