Pleased with recent success, the Pelicans play three road games as the Smoothie King Center gets ready for the All-Star Game
After finishing this past week’s home stand with a 3-1 record, the young New Orleans Pelicans say they are ready for a road test before heading into the All-Star break.
The wins in the homestand came against one veteran, hardened defensive team in the Chicago Bulls; one that is in second place in the Southeast Division in the Atlanta Hawks; and a physical, competitive team that had the Pelicans’ number in the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The only loss was to the San Antonio Spurs, who reached the NBA Finals last season, and the Pelicans were in control for three quarters.
It’s a stand that has the Pelicans (22-27), with several players in bigger roles because of injuries, brimming with confidence heading into a three-games-in-four-nights road trip against Eastern Conference teams, beginning at Brooklyn on Sunday night. Winning this trip, they say, will bode well concerning the possibilities of the final 30 games of the season after the break.
“We have to have the road mentality,” said guard Anthony Morrow, who leads the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage at 48.9 and made eight of nine during the just-completed homestand. “Teams are going to make runs. The crowd is going to get into it.
“That’s the next step for us, to continue to understand what helped us get those wins at home and just doing the same on the road.”
The Pelicans follow the game against the Nets with one Monday at Toronto and finish the trip at Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Beaten down by an eight-game losing streak and having not jelled offensively, the Pelicans have played harder more effectively of late. It began on defense, where they were forced to rely on each other’s help. That spread to offense.
And the wins have come: six in the past eight games, seven in the past 10.
Along the way, they worked out the rough spots. Bad third quarters were undermining their efforts. They have gotten off to better starts coming out of halftime in doing better. Playing poorly late in games cost them victories, too. Overcoming that against Atlanta, Chicago and Minnesota was the latest encouraging area.
“To close out the fourth quarter against playoff-type teams, that’s why we’re winning,” said guard Austin Rivers, whose intensity off the bench keyed the win against Minnesota on Friday. “We’ve gotten smarter and better and better. We’re looking like a different team.”
So are the Nets. And the transformation under first-year coach Jason Kidd has come after injuries to Brooklyn’s best players. Center Brook Lopez’s right foot was fractured Dec. 23 against the Pacers, and point guard Deron Williams missed four games with a sprained ankle.
The injuries turned the Nets, who get high-level scoring from All-Star guard Joe Johnson, into a defensive-minded team. Lopez’s injury cast into the starting lineup veteran Kevin Garnett, a former Defensive Player of the Year with the Boston Celtics. And the injury to Williams, who has missed 16 games this season because of the ankle, made 6-foot-7 Shaun Livingston the starting point guard.
Since Lopez’s injury, Brooklyn (22-26) is 13-8. They are 12-5 in 2014, allowing 95.3 points per game compared with 102.4 allowed in the previous 31.
In the four games without Williams, who returned Jan. 16, Brooklyn was 3-1.
Garnett and Livingston have proven to be an inside-out dynamic defensive duo. On Monday against Philadelphia, they became the first Nets teammates since 1990 to get five blocks and seven steals in a game. And, veteran Paul Pierce had six steals on Feb. 1, as he and Livingston got six or more steals in back-to-back games.
“That’s probably the most veteran team in the NBA,” Rivers said. “They have Hall of Famers. So, we’re going to have to fight.”
Monday night’s foe, the Raptors (26-24) lead the Atlantic Division and are 19-12 since trading forward Rudy Gay to Sacramento on Dec. 9. That is the third-best record in the Eastern Conference in that span, behind only Indiana and Miami. Since the trade, Toronto is eighth in the NBA in assists (23.1 per game). Before, the Raptors were last (17.4). … Backup point guard Greivis Vasquez,who played for New Orleans last season and was second in the NBA in assists per game (9.0), came to the Raptors in the trade. He has averaged 6.7 points, 4.0 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 19.4 minutes in 29 games. … The Raptors boast All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan and defending Slam Dunk champion Terrence Ross, who hit 51 points against the Clippers on Jan. 25.