Whoever is in charge of making trips to the pharmacy better have the car gassed up.
It’s understandable for anyone in the New Orleans Pelicans’ organization to feel some heartburn after six consecutive games decided in the final minute. And while the Tums, Prilosec and Maalox will help, the ultimate cure is winning.
For now, these Pelicans are filling that prescription.
New Orleans pulled out another gut-churning victory in Charlotte on Wednesday, polishing off a 101-96 defensive tussle in the final few possessions. It marked the Pelicans’ sixth win their past seven games, easily the most successful stretch of the season.
And nearly all of those wins have been sealed in crunch time.
“We just grinded it out,” Anthony Davis said Wednesday. “We keep playing. We keep playing for each other, playing defense and just have to come out with the win.”
It’s become a common theme.
The Pelicans have tallied the most “clutch” minutes in the NBA this season. And they’ve nearly lapped the field over the past nine games.
The definition for a clutch minute is met when there are less than five minutes remaining and the score is within five points.
New Orleans has logged 55 of their league-leading 136 clutch minutes since Jan. 8, while the next-highest mark is Brooklyn’s 30 over that span. Two-thirds of the league’s teams haven’t even reached 20 clutch minutes in their past nine games.
And considering the Pelicans’ 7-2 record in those games, it’s safe to say the tight and tense battles are becoming a strength as a playoff résumé is constructed. They enter the weekend sitting at sixth place in the Western Conference standings, just two losses behind fourth-seeded Minnesota and a game back of fifth-seeded Oklahoma City.
New Orleans has outscored its opponents by 30 combined points in clutch situations over the past nine games, thanks largely to a string of overtime wins and gutty fourth quarter performances. But, despite their tense nature and similar results, the finishes haven’t looked identical.
In beating the Knicks, the Pelicans overcame a ragged first quarter and reeled off a second-half rally. To beat Boston, they sustained a 10-point deficit in the second half to prevail in extra time. And a double-OT thriller over the Bulls came only after withstanding Chicago’s 21-5 buzzsaw run to open the fourth quarter.
“There’s a little bit of fatigue,” guard Jrue Holiday admitted after Wednesday’s victory. “Obviously as the season goes along it gets harder and harder. But it’s the same thing for them. You can really see some fatigue in both teams. But it’s really about grinding it out and making stops at the end of games and we’ve been able to do that.”
While the additional playing time has worn on the Pelicans — with Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Holiday all among the NBA’s top 10 in minutes played this season — they’ve energized the fan base. Several players commented on the raucous atmosphere in the comeback over Chicago on Monday, and the enthusiasm appears to have translated at the box office.
Pelicans’ officials said there are fewer than 1,000 tickets remaining for Friday’s 7 p.m. tipoff against the Houston Rockets at the Smoothie King Center. Based on the secondary market values and current ticket sales, it’s widely expected to be the best attended game since the Pelicans’ home opener against the Golden State Warriors.
And the dose of enthusiasm can only add to the Pelicans’ late-game proficiency.
“A lot of energy,” Davis said when asked about what he felt during the fourth quarter of Monday’s win. “There was energy from everywhere. The crowd. The bench. Every time we scored, we just looked. I just wanted to cut it to 10 in the final four minutes and we got stops and scored and next thing you know I’m at the free throw line trying to win the game.”