The chance to get their footing on the Western Conference playoff ladder is right there for the New Orleans Pelicans.
On Sunday, they begin a six-game homestand, their longest of the season. And they are a healthy 13-5 at the Smoothie King Center, where it appears they’ve started to gain the confidence of their fans this season.
But this stretch won’t be easy. The Pelicans (22-21) start off at 5 p.m. Sunday against the Dallas Mavericks, who are in the fifth playoff position in the West and, heading into Saturday’s games, were tied for second in the Southwest Division, a game behind Memphis. New Orleans then plays an easier foe, the Philadelphia 76ers — but that’s Monday, the second game of a back-to-back.
The rest of the homestand yields games against the Denver Nuggets, who get an opportunity to knock off a team in front of them in the standings; the Los Angeles Clippers; the hottest team in the NBA in the Atlanta Hawks; and the Oklahoma City Thunder, with whom the Pelicans were tied at ninth in the West.
“We don’t want to look too far into the schedule, but the key is you have to take care of home,” said guard Eric Gordon, who scored 20 points and had five assists in the Pelicans’ 92-84 win at Minnesota on Friday. “We want our fans energetic, and when you take care of (winning at) home … we’ve been doing it pretty well all year, but it starts (on this homestand) with Dallas. I think that will be a good start for us.”
With starting point guard Jrue Holiday out two to four weeks with a right tibia stress reaction, the level of Gordon’s play will be important, particularly with sixth man Ryan Anderson also ailing with inflammation in both ankles. Gordon will be needed to offset the scoring of Holiday and Anderson. But his decision-making, defense and spacing of the floor for drives by backcourtmate Tyreke Evans also shapes up to be imperative for a successful next six games.
Gordon has been coming on since returning Jan. 5 after missing 21 games with a torn left labrum, and he has upped his play with Holiday out. In the past three games, Gordon has averaged 19.0 points. He has shot 53.7 percent, but the biggest development has been his averaging 6.7 assists per game, taking up some of the slack from Holiday being out.
“I think I’m getting the ball a little bit more,” he said. “It gives me a chance to pick my points on when I need to make better decisions on when to score, making a good pass.”
His challenge Sunday may be more on the defensive end, although his ability to apply pressure on an opponent offensively certainly enters into the equation. With Holiday out, Gordon likely will be matched against Dallas point guard Rajon Rondo. There’s no doubt he also will defend Mavericks shooting guard Monta Ellis, who closed out the Pelicans with 14 points in the final 4 minutes, 27 seconds of a 112-107 win in Dallas on Dec. 10.
The Mavericks are 2-0 against the Pelicans this season, also having won 109-104 at the Smoothie King Center on Nov. 1. A victory would give the Pelicans three in a row for the first time this season; they have won consecutive games five times.
“Dallas is a tough team, home or away,” Gordon said. “They’re all about scoring. We just have to limit their runs, and you have to keep pushing it offensively.”
Entering Saturday, the 76ers were 8-35 and the Nuggets 18-25, but both have won games at home this season against the Pelicans. The other four — the Mavericks, Clippers, Hawks and Thunder — were a combined 117-57, including 53-33 on the road, and that’s with OKC’s 10-14 away mark.
The Hawks, who have the best record in the Eastern Conference, were 7-6 before beating the Pelicans the day after Thanksgiving. They have won 29 of 31 since, going 15-1 on the road. The Thunder was 5-13 after losing to the Pelicans 112-104 at the Smoothie King Center on Dec. 2, the day reigning league MVP Kevin Durant returned, which was two days after guard Russell Westbrook came back. They have gone 17-8 since and had won four in a row before losing 103-93 at Atlanta on Friday, which enabled the Pelicans to pull even in the conference race.
“We’re starting to learn what it takes, and how it starts is definitely winning games at home,” Gordon said. “Once you take care of home and try to beat teams on the road with not-so-good records, then you give yourself a chance at the end.”
Coach Monty Williams said Anderson is day-to-day but could play Sunday. … The Pelicans signed backup point guard Nate Wolters to a second 10-day contract. With Holiday out, the move was expected; Wolters played 14 minutes against Minnesota after playing 22:03 in Wednesday’s home win against the Los Angeles Lakers.