The New Orleans Pelicans are on a mission.
In a league where it's still in vogue to bottom out after losing a superstar player, the Pelicans have made a decided commitment to forgo the long road and leap headfirst into the mad scramble for the Western Conference's 2013-2014 playoff race.
But unless last season's 57-25 Denver Nuggets enter into inexplicable free fall (possible with the departure of George Karl, Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer, and a delayed return by Danilo Gallinari), seven of the conference's previous eight playoff teams seem poised to stay firmly in postseason contention.
Which means the 'Cans will most likely be fighting tooth and nail for the No. 8 seed against the Dallas Mavericks (hadn't missed the playoffs in 12 seasons until last year), the Minnesota Timberwolves (sporting a finally-healthy 'Big Three' of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic) and the Portland Trailblazers (whose new-found depth will spell Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge from having to finish among the league's top-10 leaders in minutes per game).
Not that the Pelicans are worried, nor should they be, as long as the following five developments fall neatly into their favor.