Take a hit and respond. Suffer adversity and move on. Dig a hole and find a way out.
The Pelicans showed the ability Tuesday to do all of that.
The question now is whether New Orleans can carry the lessons of a win against lowly Minnesota into the crucial second half of its season on the brink.
“They were outworking us and playing harder than us,” Pelicans forward Anthony Davis said after his team rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit to beat the Timberwolves 114-99. “We just wanted to change that in the second half. So we came out with a lot of energy and tried to fight back knowing we didn’t want to lose the game. We kind of played with desperation, but we can’t wait until we’re down to start playing with desperation.”
It has taken some time for the season-long desperation to set in. But with 41 games down and 41 to play, the Pelicans are showing signs of response.
The win against Minnesota was New Orleans’ third in four games. It was the start of a seven-game homestand that intensifies Thursday night, when the Detroit Pistons visit the Smoothie King Center.
The Pelicans (14-27) entered Wednesday’s NBA schedule four games behind the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. Three teams sat between Utah and New Orleans.
The climb will be a challenge. The Pelicans learned Wednesday they’ll be without shooting guard Eric Gordon for four to six weeks after he fractured the ring ringer in his right hand during Tuesday’s game. Gordon had successful surgery Tuesday, the team announced.
Still, the Pelicans’ recent uptick — and Tuesday’s win, despite the struggling opponent it came against — showed that New Orleans at least still has a willingness to fight.
The younger Timberwolves had fresher legs and more apparent intensity early in Tuesday’s game and put the Pelicans in a hole early.
There have been times this season when New Orleans failed to respond to just those circumstances — “We haven’t won a lot of games, if any, like that,” forward Ryan Anderson said — but Tuesday was an exception.
The Pelicans held the Timberwolves, who scored 38 points in the first quarter, to 39 points in the second half.
“Second half, it was a must that we had to come out and turn it around,” guard Tyreke Evans said. “I think we did that. We played good defense, Dante (Cunningham) knocked down shots when (the defense) helped, I attacked, AD was being aggressive. We’ve got to be like that from the start on Thursday.”
And they’ll likely have to be like that until the finish of the season.
The Pelicans have one of the NBA’s easiest remaining schedules. Their 23 remaining home games are tied for the most in the league, and they have a league-best 14 games left at home against teams with .500 or worse records.
To make it matter, New Orleans will have to display some of the grit it showed Tuesday. And it’ll have to do that even when the competition steps up.
“We just fought all game,” Davis said. “No matter how much we were down, we just fought. That’s what we got to do. We’ve got enough talent to win games, but we got to lock in from the beginning of games and make sure the first play of the game, we do everything that we said we’re going to do defensively. The first play of the game.”