It’s taken a long time to get to .500.
So, forgive the New Orleans Pelicans if they want to celebrate a bit. They climbed to an even record (more than a day into the season) for the first time since the 2014-15 season, and did so in impressive fashion.
The Pelicans decimated the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers 123-101 on Saturday night at the Smoothie King Center. It was their third win in the past four games, quickly rallying back from a 1-3 start to the season, in a raucous and attention-grabbing affair.
“We are going to be a special team,” Anthony Davis said. “We feel it. We don’t just feel it. We know it.”
For at least one night, a sold-out home crowd of 18,539 people came to their feet in agreement.
It’s a far cry from where the Pelicans found themselves this deep into the last two seasons, when questions flooded their locker room and answers were impossible to find.
Instead, on Saturday night, the Pelicans showed LeBron James and the rest of the league they could be a force to be reckoned with as the next six months unfold.
DeMarcus Cousins notched his first triple-double since coming to New Orleans, tallying 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Davis added a game-high 30 points and 14 rebounds in his return from a nearly two-game absence (left knee).
“If we are going to be successful it can’t just be two guys, just AD and DeMarcus,” coach Alvin Gentry said before the game. “It has to be the whole team. We are learning more and more about each other every day.”
The message was received.
Jrue Holiday and E’Twuan Moore broke out, turning New Orleans’ backcourt into a unit nearly as dangerous as its vaunted frontcourt.
Holiday broke out of his early season slump, driving, shooting and confidently controlling the Pelicans’ offense, adding 29 points along the way. Moore tallied a career-best 24 points on just 13 shots.
“We needed it,” Davis said. “E’Twaun played well tonight and Jrue got back to being Jrue. I told him this is what we need from him every night.”
In the end, however, it was the duo of All-Star bigs who overwhelmed the Cavs.
When Gentry opted to leave the pair in to start the fourth quarter, while James rested, Davis went on a scoring binge highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers and a put-back dunk, helping turn an 89-83 lead at the end of the third into a 19-point advantage midway through the fourth.
“Basically, we just didn’t want to give back the lead,” Gentry said. “They were having a tough time matching up with those two guys the whole night, so I thought starting the fourth quarter with those guys and maybe being able to hold them off would be important.”
It proved to be a finishing punch.
James never left the bench, and the final minutes became a coronation for the Pelicans, who piled up gaudy stats en route to a blowout victory.
A red-hot start provided an important boost as well, opening up a 35-23 advantage after just one quarter, thanks to relentless ball movement and a full-throttle tempo. New Orleans notched 12 points off of Cavs turnovers and scored seven via fast break in the first quarter alone, locked in from the onset.
Crisp passing carried the Pelicans throughout the night, dishing out a season-high 33 assists. The first half was particularly dizzying as New Orleans logged assists on 21 of 25 field goals.
Now the Pelicans seek an elusive winning record, hosting the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves in the next four days, aiming for another high-water mark in the Gentry era.
“The one thing I said when I got here is that we have to establish a home court advantage,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “So, we have to be able to play against any team and feel like we can win at home.”