This is what three in a row looks like:
- Anthony Davis pounding his chest after a dunk following an offensive rebound and later outmuscling fellow future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki to tip away the inbound pass that prevented Dallas from having a go at a winning basket.
- Tyreke Evans, he of the supposed refusal to share the ball, assisting on nine of his team’s first 20 baskets — and making six of them himself en route to 24 points and 12 assists.
- Quincy Pondexter, relegated to the end of the bench with Memphis until two weeks ago, scoring a season-high 14 points — 10 more than he was averaging with the Grizzlies — and solidifying a thin bench with 29 minutes.
This is what three in a row sounds like:
- “This was fun. But we’ve got to just give ourselves a couple of hours and start thinking about (the Philadelphia 76ers, who visit Smoothie King Center on Monday), knowing what they did to us.” — Davis
- “I was just looking to find the guys, And then I was mixing it up getting to the basket. It’s that simple. It’s an adjustment because I have a different role. It’s been a long time since I was looked on to be a leader, and it means a lot to me because they trust me.” — Evans
And here’s what three in a row means:
The Pelicans are now two games behind Phoenix, a loser against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. They’re two games ahead of Oklahoma City, a loser at Cleveland on Sunday, their closest pursuer.
One game in a season of 82. A little closer to the team just ahead of them, and a little farther ahead of the team just behind them — although getting to see Mavericks owner Mark Cuban follow his team off the court with his head hanging as the raucous SKC celebrated was a bonus.
It’s why Pelicans coach Monty Williams invoked the “two-hour rule” because of Monday’s looming back-to-back. They’ve yet to take both ends in nine attempts this season.
But then again, maybe it means a lot more.
Consider how the first part of the week went: the embarrassing loss at New York on Monday, rumors that Monty Williams’ firing was imminent and the revelation Wednesday that team owner Tom Benson is involved in a nasty struggle with his daughter and grandchildren over the future of both the Pelicans and Saints.
And then consider what has happened since then: victories against the fading Los Angeles Lakers and moribund Minnesota Timberwolves before defeating a divisional nemesis in the closing seconds to make it three straight wins for the first time since March.
That has to be as meaningful as any victory for this franchise in a long, long time.
“If we had lost tonight, that would have been really bad for us,” Pondexter said. “Losing on the road, even like we did in New York, is going to happen. Losing at home, with all of the fans cheering for you, is tough. But we took care of business.”
“You’ve got to eliminate the external stuff,” said Williams, who would not address the ownership situation. “I tell the players not to listen to any of it. We know what we’re doing here, putting our players in position to win games. You can’t worry about stuff that goes on outside.”
Those external forces — the ownership struggle and Williams’ job status — probably will come up again this season, which still has almost three months to go before the playoffs. And those three recent losses to sub-.500 teams on the road are going to count just as much as these past three wins do.
But for now, the Pelicans can look ahead to the next five games — all of them at home, with three more home games coming before the All-Star break — as an opportunity to stay alive for the playoffs.
For a team whose most consistent factor has been its inconsistency, that’s probably not advisable, though. And knowing the quality of the West — 24 of the remaining 38 games are in the conference — it’s really not advisable.
Pondexter, the only player on the team who has experienced the playoffs with this franchise (then known as the Hornets, during his rookie season of 2010-11) sees the possibility.
“We’re getting older, we’re getting better and we’re learning how to play together,” he said. “Monty’s a great coach. I like where we’re going.”