Pelicans have mastered the art of average so far this season
NEW ORLEANS — The Pelicans are an average team.
In fact they are remarkably consistent at being average.
A little more than a third of the way into the season, they’re not that good, which is kind of bad. But they’re not bad, which is kind of good.
It all depends on how you look at it.
The Pelicans are 15-14 after a 115-108 victory against Milwaukee on Wednesday night in the Smoothie King Center. Not bad.
They have alternated wins and losses in their last seven games over a period of 12 days. It doesn’t get much more average than that.
This season they have never been more than three games above .500 and never more than two games below .500. Not real good, but not too bad.
“I’d like for us to put together a streak of wins,” said coach Alvin Gentry, whose team hasn’t had consecutive wins since a three-game streak between Nov. 20-24.
Who knows when such a streak might happen? Friday perhaps?
That’s when the Pelicans shoot for back-to-back wins as they visit Denver to start a stretch of four consecutive road games.
And so far the likelihood of a win or a loss has had little to do with whether New Orleans has been at home or on the road.
The Pelicans are 7-7 away from the Smoothie King Center, which was their record inside the SKC prior to Wednesday’s game. If form holds their road record will even up with the home record on Friday.
New Orleans will also make stops in Washington, Orlando and Miami before returning home to play Brooklyn on Dec. 27 to begin a stretch of three home games in four days to end 2017.
“We have to find some consistency,” said forward DeMarcus Cousins, whose play often mirrors that of his team.
On Wednesday he had team-highs of 26 points and 13 rebounds and his seven assists were one short of Jrue Holiday’s team-high. But Cousins also had a team-high nine turnovers as New Orleans gave the ball away 21 times, leading to 24 Bucks points.
“I’m the biggest culprit,” Cousins said. “I definitely have to make better decisions with the basketball. It shows just how good we could be if we just cut our turnovers in half.”
The Pelicans entered the game giving up an average of 18.5 points off turnovers per game, seventh-worst in the NBA.
It’s an accomplishment to win despite 21 turnovers, but, as Gentry said, “I’d like to not have to overcome 21 turnovers.”
Generally the Pelicans have been more successful against the weaker teams on the schedule and less successful against the stronger teams, which is usually the way it works. Going into Wednesday, the teams they have beaten had won a combined 44 percent of their games and the teams that have beaten the Pelicans had won a combined 59 percent of their games.
New Orleans’ signature win came against Cleveland (20-8) though the Cavaliers were in the midst of their worst stretch of the season when the Pelicans beat them Oct. 28. The Pelicans have other good wins against San Antonio (19-9) and Indiana (16-11).
The worst losses have come against Memphis (8-19), Orlando (11-17), though the Magic was going through its best stretch of the season when it prevailed two days after the Pelicans’ game against Cleveland, and Sacramento (9-18).
“The only real disturbing loss was the Sacramento one at home,” Gentry said.
That defeat came last Friday when New Orleans squandered a nine-point lead with less than four minutes remaining and lost in overtime to a team that had won just three road games previously.
“We’re trying to put a win streak together,” said forward Anthony Davis, who complemented Cousins with 25 points and 10 rebounds. “We know if you lose two or three in a row you can drop from sixth to maybe 12th in the Western Conference.”
After Wednesday’s games, New Orleans was in a virtual tie with Portland for the sixth spot in the Western Conference, a half-game behind Denver, a game behind Minnesota and a game ahead of Oklahoma City.
“We’re in a decent place,” Gentry said. “I think obviously we could have won a few more games here and there but we’re in the middle of the race and I think that’s the most important thing.”
That positioning will change countless time before the playoffs begin in late April, but the standings do show more promise for this team than for the last two Pelicans teams, whose seasons got off to horrendous starts that essentially doomed them before Christmas.
“Hopefully somewhere along the line we can make that run where we’re very consistent and have an eight-out-of-10 run or something like that,” Gentry said, “and I think that’s what’s eventually going to end up separating the pack.”
That would be above average.
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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…