Take that, Dirty Birds!
OK, maybe it wasn’t the avian opponent local fans love to hate. Or just plain hate.
The Atlanta Hawks?
Hard to develop hostile feelings for a franchise that usually is among the most anonymous ones in the NBA, even in their home city.
Bet you didn’t know they’ve been to the playoffs for the past seven seasons.
But unlike their NFL counterparts, who weren’t very good against much of anybody this season except the Saints, the Hawks came into the Smoothie King Center on Monday with the NBA’s best record (40-8) something they haven’t had since the franchise moved from St. Louis in 1968.
The Hawks’ 19-game winning streak was tied for the fifth best run in league history, and they were coming a 17-0 January the first time any NBA team had accomplished that in a calendar month.
And just to show that this hadn’t been accomplished mainly by beating up on weaklings from the Eastern Conference, Atlanta had a 12-game winning streak against teams from the West, one that started with a Nov 28 victory against the Pelicans.
With football season over, the nation’s sports attention had shifted to a team whose style of play was being compared to the league champion San Antonio, where Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer spent 18 years under Gregg Popovich.
ESPN even sent a crew to detail this rising power with the unselfish style all could admire.
All streaks have to end, though, so perhaps the Hawks were due for an off night.
None of that mattered Monday, though.
The best team on the floor — by a long shot — was the Pelicans.
That’s now four wins in five tries during this six-game homestand, which ends Wednesday against Oklahoma City, and six out of seven since ending the first half of the season at 20-21.
Who saw that coming?
Of course, it helped to have Anthony Davis back after he missed the last game with a pulled groin muscle. You can always use 29 points and 13 rebounds.
But on this night, the kudos go to Tyreke Evans.
The most versatile player on the team, filling in at point guard for the injured Jrue Holiday the 11th straight game, had 12 assists, the fourth time in the past five outings he’s hit that number, and also 15 points, most coming as he twisted, turned and otherwise contorted himself en route to the basket.
Evans’ best play was a first-quarter steal at the free throw line, and, after bringing the ball into the lane at the other end, pitching to Eric Gordon for a 3-pointer.
“Tyreke is starting to understand that he can be a facilitator and still score,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “It just takes time to get that cohesiveness with his team.
“Our guys are still learning to play with each other. They’re making reads off the offense, and it’s paying off.”
Evans’ playmaking efforts keyed a night when the Pelicans had assists on 70 percent of their baskets (30-of-43). The Hawks, second in the league in assists with 26.1 per game, were 19-of-40 (48 percent).
And when the Pelicans weren’t feeding the ball to each other, they were outrebounding the visitors 52-32, led by Omer Asik’s 17, which matched his season high.
“They just played hard,” Atlanta guard Jeff Teague said. “With Anthony Davis out there to make those 15-footers, they’re a tough team to beat.
“Everything went their way. They were the better team tonight.”
Maybe the Pelicans neighbors out of 5800 Airline Drive can learn a thing or two about beating a team from Atlanta.