If you have been tracking the heated race for the 8th seed in the Western Conference, you might have noticed something weird. Projection models such as FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR based predictions are bullish about the Pelicans’ chances of securing that final spot. As of early February 29, New Orleans is given a 74% chance of making the playoffs by FiveThirtyEight. This is despite the fact that the Memphis Grizzlies are the team currently in 8th place in the standings, two game up on the the Pelicans with only 23 games left to play. FiveThirtyEight gives the Grizzlies only a 4% chance of making the playoffs. What is going on here? Why are we so confident that New Orleans will jump Memphis, and hold off at least three other plausible challengers for that last playoff spot?
The Pelicans are in pole position in the playoff race out West despite being 2 games back of Memphis with 23 to play. Why?