The anatomy of a winning streak is a tricky subject.
In the case of the New Orleans Pelicans' seven consecutive wins, however, there are few key structures keeping this particular organism alive.
While not all of the seven wins have followed the same script or unfolded in identical manners, there are some shared tenants in each. Those pushed the Pelicans from a team nearly falling apart in the wake of DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending injury, to one thriving in the heart of the Western Conference playoff race.
Versatility, pliability and resilience are those overarching traits. The Pelicans hope to maintain them entering Sunday's 6 p.m. road matchup against the Dallas Mavericks.
It doesn’t take a forensic study to see where the success starts.
Anthony Davis’ spectacular play has grabbed national attention, winning Western Conference Player of the Month, and prompting NBA media to suddenly debate his Most Valuable Player credentials. During this winning streak, Davis is averaging 39.3 points, 15 rebounds, 3 steals and 2.7 blocks per game. He’s done it while shooting an efficient 53.5 percent from the field and 39.1 percent on 3 pointers.
Needless to say, he’s been excellent.
And a large portion is attributable to flexibility in accepting his changing role and versatility to execute it at an extraordinary level. While Davis’ trend is similar to what he did when teamed with Cousins’, his usage has risen dramatically, playing more than 70 percent of his minutes at center, rather than his preferred power forward spot.
It’s why, since Cousins’ injury, Davis is averaging nearly 12 more touches per game in the front court, 2.1 more at the elbow and is driving to the basket at more than double the previous rate. This is the byproduct of playing more off of Jrue Holiday as a small-ball center rather than as an accompanying floor-spacer with Cousins.
Both were effective, but this version amplifies the volume on Davis’ numbers to unseen heights. And the Pelicans have needed all of them.
“I’m just doing whatever this team needs me to do in order for to win,” Davis said earlier this week. “That’s all that matters to me. I’ll play center or I’ll play forward. It really doesn’t make a difference as long as we are winning.”
And tallying wins hasn’t been an issue.
That’s where the resilience comes in. The Pelicans fended off a series of double-digit deficits and late-game charges, doing just enough to squeeze out heart-stopping wins.
“We are battling for all four quarters and we never think we are out of a game,” Davis said. “We are going to keep fighting and keep playing for each other.”
Five times, the scoreboard margin was within a point in the final minute. Three games went to overtime.
And each of the last three victories required monumental efforts in the second half, after falling behind by at least 15 points in the third quarter.
In fact, the Pelicans outscored the San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks by a combined 202-155 in the second half.
“I think right now we are on a roll and in a groove,” Holiday said after Wednesday’s win. “Obviously, the last couple of games, we haven’t played the first half the way we wanted to, but to be able to finish out games and make it seven in a row, it’s been awesome. It’s been fun.”
The energy has translated into their style as well. While New Orleans was always playing with pace, it has skyrocketed in the midst of this streak, averaging the most possessions per game in the NBA since Cousins was sidelined.
In fact, they've attempted at least 90 shots in each of their last 11 games, the NBA's longest streak since Denver in the 1990-91 season.
The combination of pliability, versatility and resilience has formed a seven game winning streak and if those traits continue to appear, there’s no telling where the Pelicans could end up.
“We’ve built this with our defense and by playing fast,” Davis said. “Everybody is playing for each other and trusting each other, and we are doing it as a unit. It’s been great to see.”