Pelicans On a Hot Streak?

Published: January 24, 2016

Since the demoralizing loss to the Los Angeles Lakers that saw New Orleans drop to second-to-last place in the West at 11-26, The Pelicans have managed to win 3 games in a row, and 5 out of their last 6, a feat that has produced a pleased Alvin Gentry, a first for New Orleans.

After a pretty convincing win against Sacramento, the Pels managed to squeak past Charlotte before losing a close one in Memphis. Then this 7 game home stand started, and not particularly well against the Timberwolves. Minnesota put up 38 points in the first quarter. It started to feel like a typical up and down stretch for this team. Anthony Davis was the only reason they were even in the game, as he poured in 22 through the first 2 quarters. At halftime, there were no special words to say or motivational stories to tell, Alvin Gentry simply told the team look, this is the season, right here. This is it. And finally, something clicked. The Pelicans responded. The 2nd half was a blow out and the Pels went on to win 114-99.

What had turned the Minnesota game around was the same thing that this team has needed all season: improved focus and effort on the defensive end.

“We have to be a very good defensive team, who happens to be good offensively” – Alvin Gentry. Well, so far in January, the Pels have a top 10 defense. And the past couple games, they just so happen to be playing well on the other end too. The Pels last 3 games: 114-99 (MIN), 115-99 (DET), and 116-99 (MIL) astoundingly consistent numbers but how they went about it each game wasn’t.

Against Detroit, the Pelicans shot only 12 threes, their lowest 3PA total of the season. They were too busy getting good looks going to the basket. They scored a season high 60 points in the paint. The next game against Milwaukee, the Pels were getting into the paint but not converting their good looks. In the second half, they recognized that all the work they were doing inside opened up the outside. The result: the Pels knocked down 17 out of 31 threes, just one game after going 5 of 12.

Throughout this current “hot” streak two things have remained pretty constant: 1) good ball movement 2) good defense. This begs the question, “have the Pelicans finally turned a corner?” I’m not so sure about all that but it is a very good step forward.

“I think that we’ve become very acceptant of our roles. I think that we’re competing at a real high level. I think that they’re feeling comfortable. I still say that it takes a little bit of time to do what we’re trying to do. This is something brand new what we’re trying to do with every guy in the locker room. It’s taken them a while to kind of see exactly what we wanted. And in all honesty, it’s taken us as a coaching staff a while to understand exactly what we can get from guys and the spot where we want the ball and the plays we want to run to get them in those situations.”

— Alvin Gentry after the win against Milwaukee, Jan 23.

Everyone has finally started to move and play off Anthony Davis. The team has fed him the ball and gotten him good looks. 13/22 for 35 points against Minnesota, and 13 of 23 for 32 against Detroit. The next night against Milwaukee, Davis turned distributor and added 5 assists to the Pels’ 33 in the the win, a season high. Also in the Bucks game, we saw the Pels discover what could be a bread-and-butter play for them: a Holiday Pick and Roll with Davis diving and Anderson popping. They ran it 6 or 7 times in a row starting at the end of the 3rd quarter, and it sparked a run that put the game away for good.

Unfortunately for tank fans and fortunately for … not tank fans, these wins have seen the Pelicans jump 2 teams in the West’s rankings already, and New Orleans plays the 4 teams ahead of them for the 8th spot a collective 7 more times. The Pelicans still have 4 home games left on this stretch against Houston, Sacramento, Brooklyn, and Memphis. Another win or two could see them jump another team or two. Don’t get your hopes up too soon, this is uncharted territory for this Pelicans team, but in January the Pels have the 8th best net-rating in the league. Having an easier strength of schedule sure helps.

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