When the New Orleans Pelicans began their four-game road trip Monday, power forward Anthony Davis said one of the keys would be whether they are able to play with as much energy as they have at home.
Halfway through the trip, the Pelicans (6-4) learned a painful lesson about the importance of ball movement in a loss at Portland on Monday before bouncing back Tuesday with a victory at Sacramento. Getting ready for the second set of back-to-back games on the trip, the Pelicans are looking to continue to play with energy from the outset.
“On the road, we’ve got to bring our own energy, feed off each other’s energy,” Davis said. “We have to learn to play with a lead, make sure we can keep the lead and sustain it until the end of the game.”
The Pelicans were in control through three quarters at Portland, only to fold in a 34-13 fourth quarter for a 102-93 loss. They bounced back at Sacramento by outscoring the Kings 31-15 in the third and holding on for a 106-100 win.
On Friday night, the Pelicans visit Denver (4-7), where they have lost their past five games. The Nuggets are known for playing at a high tempo at high altitude. Chief among their standouts are power forward Kenneth Faried and super quick point guard Ty Lawson.
At 6-foot-8, Faried is undersized for a power forward, but there’s nothing undersized about his effort. That was on display as the U.S. team won the gold medal in the World Cup this summer, Faried teaming with Davis in the front court. Faried, selected to the all-tournament team, signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Nuggets last month.
On April 2 last season, Faried scored a career-high 34 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked three shots in a 137-107 thrashing of the Pelicans in Denver. Davis left that game with back spasms. Less than a month before that, on March 9 in New Orleans, Faried had 22 points and 14 rebounds. Davis outdid him with 32 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks in a 111-107 overtime win.
The Pelicans are facing the Nuggets as they’ve started to turn things around. After losing six consecutive games, Denver has won three of four, including two of the past three on the road.
The Pelicans may get some help: Starting center Omer Asik, who has missed the past two games with back pain, could be back. He is questionable for Friday night.
They certainly can use him Saturday, when they visit Utah. The Jazz is 5-7 heading into Friday’s game at Golden State but, just like it has in Denver, New Orleans has lost its past five games in Utah.
Of particular concern to the Pelicans is the Jazz’s front-court tandem of center Enes Kanter (6-11, 245 pounds) and power forward Derrick Favors (6-10, 262). They are a rugged, physical pair, and Favors has been a challenging matchup for Davis because of his size, strength and style of play.
And, of course, small forward Gordon Hayward, who leads the Jazz in scoring at 19.3 points per game, can be expected to be a difficult matchup for the Pelicans. In a home victory Nov. 5 against LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, Hayward had 21 points and seven assists and sank the winning jumper at the buzzer.
Despite being two games over .500 for the first time since December 2011, the Pelicans are in last place in the Southwest Division. … Entering Thursday, Davis has slipped to fifth in rebounding after leading the league less than a week ago. But he is third in scoring (25.5), remains the leader in blocked shots (3.90) and is tied for first in steals (2.30). … New Orleans last won at Denver on Jan. 9, 2012 (94-81). It last won at Utah on March 24, 2011 (121-117 in overtime).