They’re playing in that netherworld area of the NBA season — too late to make a playoff run but also with too much pride and professionalism to tank.
The Pelicans — and the Denver Nuggets for that matter, showed those quality sides of themselves Sunday in the Pelicans’ 111-104 overtime victory before a Smoothie King Center crowd that seemingly grew larger, and certainly louder — as the game reached its climatic stages.
And they were rewarded with the third straight victory by a team whose season looked completely in the dumpster just six days before when a 96-89 loss to Sacramento gave them eight in a row and counting.
“It’s character,” said guard Anthony Morrow, whose off-balance 15-footer at the end of regulation sent the game to overtime and who contributed a go-ahead 3-pointer in OT. “Our guys come in every day working hard, high spirited.
“Nobody’s getting down on themselves because of the injuries. I take my hat off to every guy on our team and the coaching staff as well.”
To be sure, those last three victories have come against teams in the same boat as the Pelicans, the Kings, the Los Angeles Lakers and now the Nuggets.
And against the eight teams in Western Conference who would be in the playoffs if regular season was over the Pelicans are 1-19 (plus 4-8 vs. the East’s top eight).
However, Denver came into the SKC on Sunday on a similar track as the home team — winners of two straight after losing its previous six. At 27-35, the Nuggets remain percentage points ahead of the 26-37 Pelicans, so you could say they were equals.
“We’re looking ahead somewhat and evaluating our young players,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said before the game. “But at the same time, we’re doing our best to win every game we can right now.”
So there’s that.
And a team is that fighting for a playoff berth — Memphis — comes to the SKC center on Wednesday. So the Pelicans will be facing a team with even more motivation, albeit one they’ve beaten three times already this season.
“Winning three straight feels great,” Morrow said. “But we’re taking them one a time.
“We’ll get back in the gym and get ready for the next team.”
Obviously much of the praise for Sunday’s victory is due Anthony Davis with a career-high-matching 32 points, plus 17 rebounds and six blocks, including a Hall-of-Fame caliber block of Ty Lawson just after Davis had hit two free throws to put his team ahead for good at 106-104.
But it was also a night to point out the work of others:
- Like Morrow, the team’s most valuable bench player who had 14 points, nine of them in the second half and overtime.
“He’s like Mountain Dew times 10,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “He’s always going,
“It’s something we need on our team. He’s always positive and is not afraid to get on guys when that’s needed.”
- Like Tyreke Evans, who made only 14 of his 54 shots (25.9 percent) in the five game before he was moved into the starting lineup and is 48-90 (53.3 percent) since, Sunday, Evans was 8-14 with 14 of his 20 points coming after halftime.
- Like Al-Farouq Aminu, benched in favor of Evans because of his poor offensive production.
Aminu had only nine points on Sunday, but he showed hustle with the second unit after the starters finished the first quarter down 29-17. Then, down the stretch in regulation Aminu hit a clutch 9-footer with this team down 94-88 and then kept the ball alive during the scramble that led to the jump ball between Davis and Aaron Brooks that set up the game-tying possession which ended in Morrow’s game-evener. Aminu’s nine rebounds were his most in more than a month.
All-in-all, on a day when the rest of the NBA-watching world devoting its attention to Chicago handing Miami its third straight defeat and the Lakers’ pulling a “How in the world did that happen?” upset at Oklahoma City, two teams with little to play for the desire to win put on an entertaining show that sent the home fans home happy.
It also should have ranked high on the satisfaction scale for Williams in a season that’s seen his team’s hopes wrecked by injuries and his job security, if not his acumen, called into question.
But it wasn’t
“I’m never satisfied,” he said. “We’ve got a ways to go and we’ve got a lot more games to play.
“The satisfaction is for everybody else in the building. I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”