The copious complaints about the NBA’s unrelenting and overwrought 82-game schedule are gone for now.
After more than five months of the New Orleans Pelicans pulling a “will they” or “won’t they” routine more closely akin to sitcoms than sports, the franchise has one game to earn its way into the playoffs for the first time in five years.
The Pelicans tip off against the San Antonio Spurs at 7 p.m. Wednesday, and a win (or an unlikely loss in Minnesota by the Oklahoma City Thunder) propels them into the postseason. It’s a moment Pelicans fans and players have waited months or even years for, with everything on the table in one night.
“You can feel this means something bigger to people,” said Jake Madison, co-publisher of BourbonStreetShots.com. “No one is talking about anything else or any other scenarios or any other possibilities, it’s all here on one game, and all I’ve seen all day is fans imploring other fans to get to the Smoothie King Center early and pack the place and make a difference.”
A Pelicans advertising campaign encouraged fans to wear red, matching the team, which will don its red, alternate uniform on the floor. Although the Smoothie King Center has held 23 announced sellouts this season, including 11 consecutive, there has been consternation in the franchise about unused tickets and empty seats throughout the season.
It’s partly why Pelicans’ players openly called on fans for their full-throated support and on-time arrival Wednesday night. After Monday’s 100-88 win over Minnesota, forward Quincy Pondexter urged Pelicans’ supporters to show up for the do-or-die game.
“They better be there,” Pondexter said. “They better show up early. I can wake them all up if they want me to. We need our fans to be there, be loud and be proud and believe in us.
“We have come a long way, and we are right there, on the cusp of doing something special. I believe in our team, and I know we are going to do it.”
With 24 hours remaining before tipoff, the Pelicans were still advertising “very limited” tickets at the box office. The secondary market showed the cheapest price to get into the game was $25, while locking down a lower bowl seat would cost at least $104.
Both of those are numbers are significantly more costly than the average ticket on the secondary market this season.
“This could be it for the whole year, so if you’re going to go to a game, this is the one to buy,” Madison said. “I think there’s a lot of optimism about where this team is headed with Anthony Davis. And this is the biggest game of his career so far, so there’s a lot to take in. We’ve seen some really good crowds lately in the past week or so, and I think this will be a great test of what’s out there when the city really gets behind the team.”
Battling the defending-champion Spurs, who also happen to be the hottest team in the NBA over the past two months, also adds some intrigue and intensity to the matchup. The Spurs will not be resting starters despite a guaranteed trip to the playoffs, since they can clinch the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference with a win or sink down to No. 6 with a loss.
“We are going to need Pelicans fans to come out in full support (Wednesday),” Davis said. “The Spurs are going to be a tough team, so we’re going to need our fans to be loud and red-out the building. We feed off of them, and we’re going to need their support (Wednesday) night.”