It certainly appears the Charlotte Hornets are exactly what is needed by the New Orleans Pelicans right now.
The Hornets are 12-24 in the less competitive Eastern Conference and have been without center Al Jefferson the past four games with a left groin strain. And the Pelicans defeated Charlotte 100-91 on Nov. 4 in a game in which they were in control from the outset.
However, the Hornets’ current state as a lesser light was a big part of coach Monty Williams’ message to the Pelicans (17-17) before practice Tuesday, a day after they lost at home to the physical Washington Wizards.
“We talked about that,” Williams said. “We’re in no position to look at any team like that. We beat some big teams this year, but we’ve also lost some games that we feel like we should have won.
“When you’re a .500 team, you’re a .500 team. It’s a great opportunity for us to approach these games the same way we did Houston, the same way we did San Antonio.”
That the Pelicans are .500 speaks to the team’s wild inconsistency. The Pelicans have alternated a win and a loss in the past 10 games. It’s the NBA’s longest active such streak.
And Monday night’s development may prolong the water-treading for a team eagerly looking to string together a handful of victories. Shooting guard Eric Gordon returned after missing 21 games with a torn left labrum in a game Nov. 22 against the Utah Jazz.
On Monday, Williams, giving credit to the Wizards and their big front line and lightning fast guard John Wall, attributed the loss to Washington’s physicality knocking the Pelicans off rhythm. However, when asked Tuesday, he said the lineup change likely had something to do with the team’s struggles also.
“Even though you don’t want to admit it, I’m sure that dynamic had a little bit to do with the flow and the rotation (Monday),” Williams said. “I’ve got to get back to maybe a nine-man rotation, sometimes eight, to get a rhythm back, because the guys who play together have to play together. There was probably some disruption.
“But we lost the game, and they beat us.”
Gordon was thrust into the starting lineup, and with his timing clearly off, scored six points on 2-of-8 shooting. Although he struggled, he played 32 minutes, 52 seconds. Williams said there’s no time to ease one of his key players back into the flow.
“He’s got to get his rhythm back,” Williams said. “The only way you can do that is by playing. We don’t have the practice time to get up and down the floor.
“(Anthony Davis), Tyreke (Evans) and Jrue (Holiday) have already played over a thousand minutes, so we’re not going to have those guys running up and down the floor at practice a ton. The only way Eric can get his legs back is by playing in the games.”
That may take awhile, and how that affects winning remains to be seen.
As for its game against the Hornets, Evans said a good start would be to cut down on turnovers. An un-Pelicans-like 18 were committed against Washington, with Evans, who scored 21 points, making six.
Going into Charlotte with less than the right mindset won’t occur, Evans said, because of a previous road game. New Orleans came off a big win at Oklahoma City on Dec. 21 and played two days later at the Indiana Pacers, a team ravaged by injuries and thus not on its customary perch as one of the NBA’s top teams. However, they easily defeated the Pelicans 96-84.
“The Indiana game, we just went in there and thought we were going to beat them,” he said. “Not taking (Charlotte) for granted (is key). Even though they don’t have (guard) Lance (Stephenson) and (center) Al (Jefferson), they’re still a good team.”
Relatively speaking, the Hornets have been the past two games, at least, with victories against two other struggling teams — Boston and Orlando — on the road.
Stephenson has missed 11 games with a pelvic sprain.
Evans said his recent illness, which lasted a few days and almost caused him to miss Monday’s game, came about because of a bite of sorts by an opposing player. He said he inadvertently hit Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe in the mouth during a game Dec. 30 at the Smoothie King Center. When Pelicans trainers saw it, Evans was told to see a doctors, who prescribed an antibiotic. Evans said he had a bad reaction to it. “It was tough,” he said. “I was trying to get my energy back. My stomach is still bothering me, but I’m still fighting it.” He no longer is on the medicine.