The New Orleans Pelicans’ performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder is one they wish they could put in a bottle.
Or a suitcase. The Pelicans (8-8) have embarked on a three-game road trip that is part of a brutal December schedule. First up is the Golden State Warriors (15-2) on Thursday, followed by games Saturday at the Los Angeles Clippers (12-5 entering Wednesday) and Sunday at the Los Angeles Lakers (5-13).
The Pelicans are 3-3 in road games against Western Conference teams this season. New Orleans went 2-2 a week ago out West, and the players and Williams say that experience can help them this time.
“We’ve had some success on the road this year,” coach Monty Williams said. “Going out West, we understand the types of opponents we’re going to face. The crowds are different on the West Coast.
“Our guys are ready for the challenge. We’ve got to take it game by game, but we should have some carryover from (Tuesday) night.”
The Pelicans have a road win at defending NBA champion San Antonio this season, but beating the Warriors would be big, perhaps something on which to build. Golden State has won 10 games in a row and is looking to tie a franchise record with a win against the Pelicans.
The game features the league’s to two players in the league in player efficiency rating, which boils down players’ statistical contributions, mostly offensive, into one number. Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis leads the NBA at 33.39 with Golden State point guard Stephen Curry second at 28.71.
Both have been mentioned as early MVP candidates.
Williams says being involved with the USA World Cup team last summer has both in excellent condition.
Davis, however, said the situation is different regarding the way he and Curry are playing.
“Steph is a great player; he always could play,” Davis said. “He has unbelievable talent. I can’t say USA basketball is the reason for him. But for me, it definitely was USA basketball. It kept me in shape, kept my game going, it kind of led me into the season.”
Like Davis, Curry is ranked high in several categories. He is fifth in the NBA in scoring (23.8 points) and assists (7.8) and eighth in steals (1.94). Thus far, he has career highs in field goal percentage (49.5), free throw percentage (92.6) and rebounds (5.2) and also is getting to the free-throw line more than before (4.8) and making more (4.4).
Unlike many point guards, who put pressure on opponents with dribble penetration, Curry does so with his outstanding shooting range. And, he has a history of tormenting New Orleans’ NBA team.
“Steph is just a tough cover,” Williams said. “He can handle the ball, he’s a great passer, he can shoot from anywhere. He’s got great command of the ball, a lot of confidence. (The Warriors) run a lot of stuff for him.
“I think with guys like Steph, you have to mix up your defenses, can’t give him the same look. He’s a lot like those elite guys. You’re not going to stop them for 48 minutes. You just have to make it as tough as you can on them.”
However, Curry has plenty of help. Backcourt mate Klay Thompson averages 20.9 points, making them the league’s best backcourt. The duo is in large part responsible for Golden State having a seven-game winning streak against New Orleans.
This season, Golden State leads the NBA in shooting at 48.7 percent and in assists at 25.8. The Warriors also lead the league in defensive field-goal percentage, holding opponents to 40.7 percent this season, along with blocks (6.44) and defensive rebounding. The Pelicans, who had 23 assists against OKC, are shooting 48.0 percent this season but only 40.7 on the road.
The Warriors have gotten off to the fast start under new coach Steve Kerr, but Williams isn’t surprised, pointing to the Warriors having returned the top seven players in minutes played from last season.
“They have been together for a while,” he said. “Their backcourt, those guys know exactly what (each) is going to do. They have continuity. That’s what it takes to be good. They have had those summers where things have kind of sunk in, and the come out the next year even better.”
Williams said the Pelicans have begun receiving data back from medical sources and the team will know in the next few days whether guard Eric Gordon will need surgery on his torn left labrum. … In the Warriors’ 10-game winning streak, only one team — Miami — had a winning record. … Curry spained an ankle against Detroit on Nov. 30, but played in the next game, against Orlando on Tuesday night. He hit the winning 3-point shot with 2.2 seconds left. … Golden State has had 89 consecutive sellouts.