Not all losses are created equally.
The New Orleans Pelicans’ 0-2 record is a lesson in this theory, as two distinctly different reactions have followed disparate-looking defeats.
A season-opening loss to the Memphis Grizzlies was a drab affair, undone by poor ball movement and defensive mistakes. Meanwhile, Friday’s 128-120 defeat at the hands of the champion Golden State Warriors made an identical mark in the standings but displayed the Pelicans’ offensive firepower, gumption and team involvement.
So, while 0-2 is undoubtedly 0-2, the Pelicans depart on a three-game road trip possessing more promise and hope than they held at 0-1.
“Those last couple of seconds we were standing at the free-throw line and we were all looking at each other like, ‘Bro, we’re good,’ ” DeMarcus Cousins said following Friday’s loss. “We took another huge step tonight. I’m proud of the way we battled. I look forward to the next matchup and I think we are in a good place.”
However, it’s overwhelmingly likely that 0-3 won’t elicit the same response. So, the stakes are significant when the Pelicans face the Los Angeles Lakers at 8:30 p.m. Sunday in the Staples Center. Road games in Portland and Sacramento follow later in the week.
But the Pelicans at least have a blueprint now.
“We talked about it as a team, to make sure we bring this effort every night,” guard Ian Clark said Friday. “We feel like if we do that, we will definitely make shots as a team, and that win column will definitely rack up.”
After dishing just eight assists in the final three quarters at Memphis, the Pelicans made good on their promise to pass more often and spread the ball around the perimeter, rather than solely relying on DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis to score individually.
While Davis and Cousins still accounted for the majority of the Pelicans’ scoring — each tallying 35 points on 21 shots — the supporting cast was far more involved. New Orleans totaled 23 assists, and six players converted 16 3-point attempts.
“Ball movement was definitely a focal point,” Jrue Holiday said. “Obviously against teams who switch everything and has the same size guards, we need to move the ball, and going from side-to-side helps break down a defense. I think we did a really good job with it.”
And the Pelicans even displayed a dose of maturity, withstanding a series of remarkable Warriors runs, highlighted by dazzling 3-pointers and relentless tempo. Still, New Orleans never wilted.
Davis and Holiday said not folding under the pressure of those onslaughts is a sign or process on its own. And it could be a critical guidepost for a team trying to build a new image after consecutive losing seasons.
“We’re good,” Holiday said. “We knew it and obviously we could see it on paper. But I think the way we played (Friday) was definitely more encouraging.”
That confidence was evident throughout the Pelicans locker room, as several players saw the beyond the result and to the team’s potential.
“There’s a lot of positive things we can take from it,” Davis said Friday. “It was a great game that showed us where we are, and it’s good to get a test like that. Now we have to go on the road and play three teams that are not the world champions, and we think if we do that again, we can come away with wins. But we like what we saw.”
Of course, danger is only a day away. If the Pelicans drop to 0-3, it will be more difficult to keep the doubters silenced and maintain confidence.
Poor starts in each of the past two seasons buried the Pelicans’ playoff chances before Thanksgiving, so there’s recognition of how critical this three-game road trip could be — even if more than 90 percent of the season remains.
“We have to avoid doing what we did last year and falling into a big hole,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “The schedule is not real friendly, but it is what it is, and we have just got take it upon ourselves to come away with a win.”