There’s something about San Antonio that brings out the best in the Pelicans.
While the Spurs are one of the league’s most dominant forces and the envy of nearly every front office, the perpetually underdog bunch from New Orleans has routinely found ways to make the Southwest Division powerhouse sweat and leave the court wondering what just happened.
It’s an event the Pelicans (17-29) hope to replay tonight at 7 p.m. in the AT&T Center, where the Spurs (40-8) are a flawless 26-0 this season. However, it wouldn’t be the first time this year New Orleans snapped a prolonged Spurs streak.
On Nov. 19 at the Smoothie King Center, the scuffling 1-11 Pelicans halted the Spurs’ six-game winning streak with a 104-90 victory, marking its fourth win in the past five games against the formidable Spurs. Even more noteworthy, it snapped a string of 1,343 consecutive games in which future Hall of Fame forward Tim Duncan recorded a rebound.
“That’s because we played in New Orleans,” Parker said after the game. “It’s always something weird here.”
The oddities go both ways, considering New Orleans’ only loss in the past five meetings against San Antonio came on Dec. 31, 2014, when center Omer Asik accidentally tipped the game-tying basket into his own net as time expired.
But that loss was long forgotten by this summer.
It was overshadowed because the Pelicans’ most important victory since their 2013 re-branding was in last year’s 108-103 victory on the final day of the regular season. The win vaulted New Orleans into the playoffs for the first time in five years and kick-started an offseason of optimism in which the Pelicans brought back more than 90 percent of their roster.
Meanwhile, the loss knocked the red-hot Spurs off of their 11-game winning streak, sinking them from the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed to its No. 6 seed and set up an eventual loss to the Clippers in seventh game of the opening round.
“When you look at that game and the way we moved the ball and imposed our will on both ends of the court, we just wanted that game and wanted that win,” forward Ryan Anderson said. “That’s the way we need to play, because it’s a playoff-type atmosphere every time we play them.”
This season, with rare exception, the Spurs have trounced opponents — even the ones who traditionally give them problems.
Their 13.3-point average margin of victory is historic and more than a half-point better than the 44-4 Golden State Warriors, who are chasing down the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the league’s all-time best record.
But the Spurs could be pursuing a record of their own, since that margin of victory is on track to be in the NBA’s best if it holds up through April. In fact, only three teams in league history have averaged a 12-point margin of victory (the 1971-72 Lakers, 1970-71 Bucks, and 95-96 Bulls).
“Going into San Antonio is a huge test, we all know that,” Anderson said. “We have a huge challenge because San Antonio is a great team and they haven’t lost at home. So, we clearly know what’s waiting for us.”
Still, there’s always a sneaking suspicion the Pelicans are closer to San Antonio than the point spread suggests (12.5 points per Las Vegas sports books Tuesday night).
While matchup issues, quick tempo and hot perimeter shooting have all played into the Pelicans’ odd success against one of the NBA’s preeminent powers, coach Alvin Gentry also believes it’s just an inexplicable quirk about the way the league’s regular season sometimes unfolds.
“I think the matchups that we have are pretty favorable and some teams just have a tendency to play well against other particular teams,” Gentry said. “San Antonio just happens to be one of them and I hope we can keep that going.”