The Pelicans won a pair of games as heavy favorites, at home, and did it with ease.
That may not sound newsworthy or even interesting to the average spectator, but considering the way New Orleans’ topsy-turvy season has unfolded, the mere fact it did what was expected is an achievement coach Monty Williams doesn’t take lightly.
Two nights after easily dispatching Sacramento, the Pelicans made quick work of the scuffling Minnesota Timberwolves en route to a 110-88 victory at the Smoothie King Center.
“We never look at games like we are supposed to win,” Williams said. “The competition in the NBA is tough. (Minnesota) beat Utah and Utah beat (Oklahoma City). If you try to figure that out you drive yourself crazy, so the key is going out every night and understanding you have to respect your opponent.”
But these types of wins haven’t been a given for New Orleans this season. In the past month alone the Pelicans have dropped a pair of home games to opponents with losing records, part of four such losses since Feb. 9.
Failure to utilize those advantageous home matchups cost the Pelicans an opportunity to control its destiny in the competitive race for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoff chase. Instead, it’s scoreboard watching every night to know whether it’s inching closer to Oklahoma City or pulling away from Phoenix.
“We’ve just got to worry about us,” point guard Tyreke Evans said. “We take care of our business and whatever happens, happens. We can’t just keep watching the standings.”
The Pelicans next order of business is a West Coast trip, starting with another set of games it will be favored to win, opening at the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday (with a chance to sweep the season series from L.A. for the first time in the franchise’s 13-year history) and in Sacramento on Friday.
Superstar forward Anthony Davis said this past weekend provided a template for how to handle the contests and if New Orleans performs similarly this week, it should set the table for an intriguing seven-game stretch run to determine its postseason fate.
“We just wanted to come out and play,” Davis said Sunday. “We don’t take anything for granted. They’re a sub-.500 team, and (we wanted to) not let them come here and get a win. We tried to come in with a mindset of one, we needed this win and two, we wanted to play well going into this road trip.”
Both of those missions were accomplished this weekend. While the Pelicans didn’t play perfectly in either game — failing to pounce on some early leads and wavering with its energy at times — they also didn’t need any late-game heroics to pull out wins.
Reserve guard Norris Cole said he perceives the team is regaining its confidence after a four-game losing streak nearly knocked them out of contention last week.
But, he and nearly every other Pelicans’ player interviewed warned against taking these games for granted. Considering the winding road this team has travelled this season, it’s a message Williams said he needs to hear.
“We’ve had the same lineup for three games so maybe it’s continuity,” Williams said. “That helps when you can get guys on the floor playing together and our bench unit is playing together and playing through Alexis (Ajincia) and (Davis) a little bit. The energy has been off the charts and we have to keep that up.”