Alvin Gentry has a simple philosophy.
Expect to win at home. Steal wins on the road when you can.
Together, the combination should be enough to reach the playoffs and potentially grab a prime spot in the standings.
Gentry’s beliefs on the matter aren’t controversial or pioneering or innovative. It’s the basic expectation for nearly every team in the NBA.
Yet his Pelicans are in the process of flipping the formula. And it’s not exactly a welcome change.
New Orleans remains in the thick of the playoff race despite tallying a middling 17-14 record in the Smoothie King Center and a superlative 21-14 road mark. Those numbers are nearly diametrically opposite from their competition in the bunched-up Western Conference, all of whom are more reliant on home-court advantage.
Entering Tuesday, the Pelicans carry the fifth-best road record in the NBA but languish with the 20th-ranked winning percentage at home. It’s the largest disparity in franchise history.
“We have been a better road team than a home team, and I’m not sure I could tell you why,” Anthony Davis said. “We know we need to protect home court and we’ve talked about it all year, but for whatever reason we have been a better team on the road. We just have to turn it around and do what works on the road and do it in front of our fans and on our floor.”
Never has the odd problem been more evident than over the past two weeks.
After polishing off a perfect four-game road trip, the Pelicans returned home only to get beaten on the Smoothie King Center floor twice in three days, suffering lopsided losses to the Washington Wizards and Utah Jazz. In fact, only three of the Pelicans’ 10 victories during their recent winning streak came in New Orleans.
“We played a bit at home on that little streak,” Davis said. “Now, we have just got to get back to playing how we have been playing. Playing fast. Playing together.”
Their next opportunity to salve home woes comes at 7 p.m. Tuesday against the Charlotte Hornets.
New Orleans needs to protect its court more than ever. The Pelicans are in the midst of their most home-heavy stretch of the season, which includes seven of eight games at the Smoothie King Center.
“I don’t know (why the Pelicans are worse at home), and it’s a good question,” Nikola Mirotic said after the Utah loss. “There are some teams obviously playing better at home and some teams don’t. For some reason we play better away. But we need to find a way to protect our court and to play well at home. I think our energy was good, but it’s not enough. We have to get back and practice hard and come together here.”
Performing well at home will be critically important next week, when the Pelicans host their busiest week in franchise history. Starting on Saturday, they’ll play five games in six nights at the Smoothie King Center, including a rare stretch of three games in three days because of the contest against the Pacers rescheduled from February (roof leak).
If the Pelicans perform the way they have most of the season, it could be a week that costs New Orleans its first chance at the playoffs since 2015. But there’s optimism these home struggles will dissipate as the pressure of the postseason push mounts.
“We’ll bounce back,” Gentry said. “This team has been through tough times before, and I think you’ll see us bounce back and continue to get back to where we were with regards to pace of the game. The last few games we’ve dropped to 13th, and we led the league in pace during February. So the first step is to get back to that.”