The last time the New Orleans Pelicans returned home after a Western road trip, it was a disaster.
The Pelicans sleep-walked through a loss to the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 25, then lost road games at Atlanta and Washington on back-to-back nights. And just like that, a chance to go three games over .500 turned into things going in the opposite direction.
The Pelicans (9-10), who are coming off a road win against the Los Angeles Lakers, again return home against a beatable opponent, the New York Knicks (4-18), on Tuesday. This time, New Orleans will follow that with a game against the deep, high-powered Dallas Mavericks on the road Wednesday, with the rest of a brutal December schedule to follow.
Point guard Jrue Holiday led the way against the Lakers, with 22 points and eight assists, and will be key against the Knicks, a struggling team that has had its share of problems against good point guards.
“When Jrue plays like that, he’s trying to do the right thing,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said of Holiday’s play against the Lakers. “I thought his competitive edge was really good.”
In many of the Pelicans’ games thus far, Holiday appears to have deferred to small forward/shooting guard Tyreke Evans, a determined driver to the basket. Although Evans is usually effective scoring, the ball often stops in his hands.
With Holiday running the offense, more Pelicans touch the ball. New Orleans is 6-0 when he has nine assists or more and 2-9 when he has seven assists or fewer.
Williams has said, however, he wants Holiday to continue to strike a balance between finding open teammates for baskets and scoring himself.
That shouldn’t be a problem against the Knicks. With Jose Calderon as the starter and Shane Larkin and Pablo Prigioni as backups, the Knicks are challenged defensively at the point. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving went for 37 points, and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook scored 32 in 24 minutes. Charlotte’s Kemba Walker took an inbound pass with four seconds left and drove past three Knicks for a left-handed layup to win the game.
The Knicks, however, have won their past five games in New Orleans. Although they have most of their key players back from last season, this is a team trying to adjust to the triangle offense under the Phil Jackson regime with Derek Fisher as a first-year head coach.
The Knicks have not done well on either end of the court. They are 26th in scoring, 20th in defensive field-goal percentage and 24th in rebounding differential. And when their play has been encouraging, they’ve lost down the stretch.
Anthony, who has tormented New Orleans since coming to the Knicks in 2011, had to fight back tears after New York lost at home to Portland on Sunday. It was New York’s eighth loss in a row, 10th in its past 11 games and 17th in 20 since back-to-back victories at Cleveland and against Charlotte in the second and third games of the season.
“I find myself talking about the same thing after games, so I don’t want to keep making the same excuses of trying to find reasons why we’re not pulling out these games,” Anthony said after the Knicks lost 103-99 to the Trail Blazers. “We’re not far away. The games we’re losing, we’re right there coming down the stretch.”
The Pelicans holding the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant to 14 points on Sunday, has thrown the scoring lead into a three-way tie among Bryant, the former leader, the Pelicans Anthony Davis, who was second, and Houston guard James Harden at 25.2 points per game. … The Knicks record is the worst in the franchise’s 68-year history after 22 games.