This week’s nationally televised battles between the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers will provide important litmus tests for both teams’ playoff readiness.

Granting New Orleans might not even make the playoffs, the Pelicans definitely are being priced like a playoff-caliber team in the sports betting marketplace since Zion Williamson returned from injury. And, the young star is getting raves across the board. He’s virtually unstoppable for non-contenders. Yet, New Orleans (8-3 straight up and ATS its last 11 games) is still showing vulnerabilities vs. playoff teams.

  • New Orleans (+5) lost at Houston, 117-109, scoring just 16 points in the fourth quarter after leading through three. When it was time to win the game, it was clear which team wasn’t ready.
  • New Orleans (+6) lost at home to East power Milwaukee, 120-108, in a showcase of future stars that VSiN previewed for you a few weeks ago. Zion was just 5 of 19 from the field, flunking a test vs. “The Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo.
  • New Orleans (-3¹/₂) lost at home to Oklahoma City, 123-118. Disappointing, because the market was suggesting virtual equality with that point spread regardless of what the full-season standings say. If anything, OKC’s season is suggesting dark-horse potential this spring (35-22 straight up, 37-19 ATS).

For now, New Orleans with Williamson on the court has shown it can crush short-handed Portland (138-117 and 128-115 in the last two weeks) and other non-threats (such as Cleveland 125-111, Golden State 115-101). Don’t go purchasing any futures tickets yet!

Great showings vs. LeBron James and the Lakers on Tuesday at Staples Center (10 p.m., TNT) and Sunday in the Big Easy (8 p.m., ESPN) would suggest New Orleans can make a run at the No. 8 seed in the West. The Pellies have a softer remaining schedule than current No. 8 Memphis. And, if New Orleans does grab that No. 8 slot, it would likely be matched up with the projected top-seed Lakers in the first round.

Point-spread notes:

  • New Orleans is 20-6 ATS its last 26 games. The Pelicans were dominating expectations even before Zion returned. They’re also 19-6 to the Over their last 25 games thanks to playing at a breakneck pace the market has underestimated. Bettors should consider laying points vs. lesser lights, while learning about playoff readiness this week. With totals, think Over until the market better adjusts.
  • Los Angeles dropped to 3-1 ATS its last four games after edging Boston, 114-112,as a 7¹/₂-point favorite in a thriller you may have watched Sunday afternoon. After that non-cover, the Lakers’ season-to-date point-spread record of 29-25-1 is still respectable considering how high the hurdles are on a daily basis. With totals, LA is 13-5 to the Over its last 18.

If you’re a recreational bettor who mostly bets TV games, you’ll be handicapping a lot of Pelicans and Lakers games in the coming weeks. Do your homework so you can bet smart!