Inconsistent Pelicans play closer to potential for current win streak
NEW ORLEANS — Do you believe?
Are you willing to think that this time the New Orleans Pelicans will continue to be the team you have seen most recently?
That would take quite a leap of faith.
We’re more than two-thirds of the way through the season and every time the Pelicans have looked like they were galvanizing into a solid playoff team, they have immediately played like a lottery team.
On the other hand, whenever they have started looking like a team headed for the lottery they have immediately started playing like a solid playoff team.
It was just a week and a half ago that New Orleans began its most recent run at the lottery. It performed poorly in a road loss against Minnesota and a home loss against Utah before going to Philadelphia and putting forth perhaps its most lethargic performance in a season featuring too many such performances by a legitimate playoff contender.
Then the Pelicans appeared headed for a characteristic turnaround as they built a 27-point lead a night later in New Jersey before falling behind late in what would have been the most disheartening loss of the season. But after showing playoff-caliber resiliency in a double-overtime time win they headed to Detroit and had an impressive win.
Back home in the Smoothie King Center for their final game before the All-Star Break on Wednesday night, the Pelicans rolled past the Los Angeles Lakers, 139-117. It was a season-high point total for New Orleans and the most points allowed by Los Angeles in a regulation game this season.
Three wins in a row. A 31-26 record. A grip, though a tenuous grip, on a playoff spot with 25 games to play.
Do you believe?
Well, we know this much: This three-game win streak won’t immediately turn into a losing streak as this team’s track record suggests.
With eight days without a game, New Orleans can’t lose its momentum until it returns from the All-Star Break. That doesn’t mean it won’t immediately start a losing streak when it returns against Miami in the Smoothie King Center on Feb. 23 (or sooner depending on when the NBA reschedules the game against Indiana that was postponed Feb. 7 because of a leaky roof in the building).
Either way that gives us an extended period of time to decide whether to drink the Kool-Aid and actually believe that the team we saw heading into this break will be the same one we’ll see coming out of it.
“If I had to talk about my biggest disappointment,” coach Alvin Gentry said of the pre-All-Star body of work, “it would be our home record.”
The Pelicans improved to 15-12 at home when they beat the Lakers. They’re 16-14 on the road. Of their remaining games, 14 are at home and 11 are on the road.
Gentry said the key to the rest of the regular season is to maintain their pace on the road and improve their performance at home.
“We know every game is important for us,” said forward Nikola Mirotic, who was brought in via a trade with Chicago to mitigate the season-ending loss of All-Star forward DeMarcus Cousins to an Achilles injury. “We don’t need to stop now.”
The Pelicans lost the first three games that Mirotic played in and have won the last three.
New Orleans will enter the break as one of the top eight teams in the Western Conference, but seven teams will come out of the break within five games of one another as they vie for the final five playoff spots.
It figures to be a complicated, intense battle to the finish.
Are the Pelicans figuring out how to fit Mirotic into Cousins’ spot and make the necessary adjustments around him and All-Star forward Anthony Davis?
Or are they merely setting us up for another fall-off coming out the break that resumes the roller-coaster ride that began in October?
Which do you believe?
You have more than a week to ponder which it is.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…