The New Orleans Pelicans have victories this season against some of the best teams in the NBA.
They have beaten the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder twice each and also have a victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. All are in playoff positions in the very competitive Western Conference.
However, the Pelicans (21-21) are 10th in the conference and do not reside in one of the eight playoff positions, which can be attributed squarely to seven losses against teams not in playoff spots, including woeful setbacks to the lowly New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers of the weaker Eastern Conference.
“I could name a lot of things, from bad shooting nights to tough defensive quarters,” coach Monty Williams said Thursday as his team prepared to play at the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday. “All those things are just excuses. The bottom line is we just have to go get it done.
“Our guys understand what has happened the last month — win one, lose one. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this. We just have to get past it, and the only way you can do that is to go out, execute and have a great game and play hard for 48 minutes. There have been times when we haven’t done that.”
It would seem the Pelicans look at a losing team’s record and take for granted victory is forthcoming. Williams said he doesn’t think that’s the case and points to Wednesday night’s 96-80 home win against the Los Angeles Lakers (12-31), the third against them this season, which seals the series for the first time in franchise history.
Prosperity, Williams said, has been the bigger foe.
“It’s a matter of us handling wins well,” he said. “Sometimes we win a big game — Toronto, Memphis. Bringing that same intensity and passion and focus to the next game is what really good teams do on a consistent basis.”
The Timberwolves, ravaged by injuries this season, are just 7-34 and had a 15-game losing streak with losses to nine teams with losing records.
However, during a recent five-game road trip in which the Pelicans lost at Boston, Philadelphia and New York — which had combined for 27 wins — a win at Minnesota “would be huge” coming between two home games, Williams said.
New Orleans is 8-16 on the road, part of why they have not won three games in a row this season. A win against the Timberwolves would give them consecutive victories for the fifth time this season, with a six-game homestand beginning Sunday against a tough Dallas.
It would provide some much needed momentum and, even bigger, hope. The Pelicans desperately want to gain some traction, they say.
“We’ve got to come out every night and play our style of basketball,” said All-Star power forward Anthony Davis. “We’ve got a number of home games coming up, so we’ve got to make a push during that time.
“I don’t think we’ve been that bad this season. We’ve lost some close games that we should have won, but things happen. There’s a lot of basketball left, and this is the time to make our move.”
Like the Celtics, 76ers and Knicks, the Timberwolves look like a good opportunity. The Pelicans won the season’s first meeting on Nov. 14, 139-91, the Timberwolves’ largest losing margin in franchise history. New Orleans shot 66.7 percent, including 75 percent (15-of-20) on 3-point attempts.
The Timberwolves have been devastated by injuries to three key players — point guard Ricky Rubio (high ankle sprain, muscle damage), shooting guard Kevin Martin (fractured wrist) and center Nikola Pekovic (right ankle, sprained right wrist) — in which each has missed at least 30 games. Pekovic returned for Wednesdays loss to Dallas, however. Mostly, they are a rebuilding team in need of direction.