Pelicans seek to halt tailspin at Denver

The New Orleans Pelicans were on a five-game winning streak that had them encouraged about finishing the last quarter of the season on a high note.

That was before they ran into a buzzsaw at San Antonio on Saturday. That one was expected. However, the Pelicans followed that one by being pushed around at home on Monday by the Sacramento Kings, who have the second-worst record in the NBA’s Western Conference.

Now, the Pelicans head on a three-game road trip to Denver on Wednesday, Utah on Friday and Portland on Sunday, and they are 4-17 in conference road games. Peeking out behind that trip are five games against Phoenix, Houston and Oklahoma City, with away and home games against the latter two, who are in the second and fourth playoff spots.

However, guard Anthony Morrow said the key will be the same as it was the last time this team pulled out of a tailspin.

“Just have the same mentality,” said Morrow, whose play in place of injured starter Eric Gordon helped the Pelicans retain their momentum during that five-game winning streak. “When you lose a couple or win a couple, it’s the same thing. You can’t let anything affect your energy, let anything affect your work ethic, whether it’s good or bad.”

Although the Pelicans have no playoff berth for which to play, this is a time when they need leadership through some rough waters ahead. That Morrow has become a leader on this team is not something he saw coming. It has been a slow process.

“When I first came to this team, that was not a role that I envisioned taking on,” said Morrow, who was signed to give the team added 3-point shooting to go with that of Ryan Anderson. “But we had so many key guys get injured, Coach (Monty Williams) approached me about taking on more of a leadership role. I’m not an old guy, but I’ve been in this league a while.”

Williams said five year’s experience, a strong work ethic and a very outgoing personality made Morrow, 28, a good candidate. All-Star power forward Anthony Davis is the unquestioned leader on the court, but at age 21, Williams felt he needed some help.

“We have a really quiet team, outside of A-Mo, (Davis) and (Brian Roberts) at times,” Williams said. “We don’t have a lot of guys who are really vocal.

“I see a lot of strength in (Morrow’s) personality, a lot of passion. I like guys who are passionate and who care.”

Morrow unwittingly was preparing for the role through the first half of the season when he played inconsistent minutes. Sometimes, he’d play a lot, others very little, and still others, not at all. However, there he was working — before practice, after and sometimes late at night.

“I always talk about that, not just with me but other guys on the team,” he said. “Not worrying about the playing time. Just coming to work, taking it seriously every day, whatever you need to do to get yourself up and get excited about it.

“At the end of the day, it’s the NBA, the highest turnover rate of any job in America. You might want to be on your ps and qs.”

He gained teammates’ respect with his professionalism and the results of it — 44.4 percent 3-point shooting. Of late, however, he had impressive performances in consecutive games against formidable opponents. He scored 27 points in the victory against the Los Angeles Clippers on March 26, then had 20 in the win against Utah on Friday.

Moreover, he has gained the highest of respect when it comes to dependability.

In an overtime win against Brooklyn during the streak, he struggled shooting for much of the game, only to hit a big 3-pointer in the fourth quarter and two in overtime. On March 9 against Denver, he sank the tying 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds left to send into overtime a game the Pelicans won.

Morrow is averaging just 7.3 points, but that doesn’t begin to tell his contributions to the Pelicans, particularly of late. He has averaged 16.1 points in his past six games, partly on 53.8 percent 3-point shooting. And it’s a far cry from last season, when he was traded twice.

“Last year was a down year with injuries and not being able to really play and being able to get into a good rhythm being on two different teams,” he said. “But all that stuff builds character.”