On occasion, Anthony Davis doesn’t mind a fourth-quarter breather.
The Pelicans star got one Monday night as his team romped past the Minnesota Timberwolves 116-102 in Minneapolis. Davis sat for the duration of the fourth, joking with teammates from the bench as his team closed out the stretch.
“It feels good,” Davis told reporters after the game. “When we come out and play the way we played, we can have that more often. Coming out and putting teams away early instead of having teams hang around, we get big leads. When we made a big run tonight, we made a run to go up instead of trying to get even. When we do that, it’s good for our team.”
But it’s been rare.
Even without playing Monday, Davis averages 9.1 minutes per fourth quarter, tied for seventh-most in the NBA. Pelicans teammates Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans, currently sidelined at least through the the All-Star break with tendinitis in his right knee, also rank in the league’s top 10 in fourth-quarter minutes.
That’s because separation has been rare for the Pelicans this season.
New Orleans, which hosts the Utah Jazz on Wednesday at the Smoothie King Center, has won one game this season by 20 or more points and six by 11 or more.
The Pelicans are 14-24 in games decided by six or more points. And they’re often entering fourth quarters with ground to gain. New Orleans is 2-28 when it trails after three quarters.
Lately for the Pelicans, the issue with the end of games has been what’s happened in the middle.
New Orleans on Monday snapped a four-game losing streak during which it was outscored by an average of eight points per first half, and most of that damage was done in the second quarter, when the Pelicans were outscored by an average of seven points.
The Pelicans led Minnesota 63-46 at halftime Monday en route to a rout.
“Those are games that are fun to play in and those are games that we haven’t had enough of this year,” Anderson said. “It’s nice to have a game where you can kind of relax a little bit and it doesn’t go down to the wire.”
Though the Pelicans’ starting lineup has been decimated by injury — starting guards Evans and Eric Gordon (fractured right ring finger) are out — and coach Alvin Gentry has continued to stick with scoring options Anderson and point guard Jrue Holiday as reserves, slow starts haven’t been a significant issue on the whole.
Since Holiday moved to a reserve role, the Pelicans are outscoring opponents 26.3-25.2 in first quarters. The margin is even wider — 26.1 to 24.1 — since Evans joined Gordon on the sideline.
And Gentry likes that Holiday and Anderson, who average a combined 33.2 points per game off the bench, give the Pelicans a cushion in reserve when the offense isn’t off to its best start.
“It’s been really important for us, because it gives us an opportunity, if we start the game struggling a little bit, we do have some firepower coming in,” Gentry said. “I just think it’s important. A lot of times, what’s happened, if we don’t get off to a good start, those guys have been able to help us get back and maintain. And if we do, then that’s when we can create some separation.”