The New Orleans Pelicans are doing their best to not talk about the playoffs.
They’ve played only 27 games but find themselves in contention for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, especially after beating Oklahoma City on Sunday for the second time this month.
So why does every game feel like the postseason?
“We seem to be in these playoff games lately,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said after Sunday’s 101-99 victory. “It’s just physical, and the refs are letting guys play. Guys are getting banged around, screaming and hollering, and it’s one of those games you’re glad you came out on top of. You feel like if you learn from this, you might be a better team. Because like I said in the pregame, they play the same way every night, and we withstood that.”
New Orleans (14-13) gets a chance to get another big victory Tuesday, this time against the Indiana Pacers (9-19) at 6 p.m.
Sunday’s victory was a big boost, with a strong defensive finish that will need to be replicated moving forward.
Oklahoma City scored just two points in the final 5 minutes, 34 seconds, a staggering number considering the Pelicans had been routed 114-88 by Portland the night before.
“It’s all mental and trying to push each other and get better,” Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca said. “We’re going to go there with a lot of confidence. We’ve got to keep it up and hopefully get that win again.”
Williams said before and after the game that he is looking for consistency from his young team.
The past three games are an example of why.
On Thursday, the Pelicans limited the powerful Houston Rockets to 22 or less points in three quarters for the victory.
The Blazers then dismantled the Pelicans on Saturday in embarrassing fashion.
On Sunday, New Orleans held Oklahoma City to 20 or less points in a quarter twice.
“We just need consistency,” Williams said. “Our goal is we need to go out there and play our style of basketball. After the Houston game, we thought we had turned the corner, but that’s the reason why the NBA is so tough.”
The Pacers are another example of toughness.
They have struggled this season after making the Eastern Conference finals last season, but still shot 50 percent in Sunday’s victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves to win for the second time in 12 games.
New Orleans star Anthony Davis, who finds himself in the MVP talk so far this season, said the key to consistency is remaining true to the team’s style.
“We’ve got to make sure that we remember how we feel tonight and add to it,” he said after Sunday’s win. “We can’t go back to not defending, not rebounding, not sharing the ball. Basically, what we did (Saturday) night. We’ve got to make sure we do the same thing we did tonight.”
But Davis doesn’t view the early season games as the postseason just yet, even though he and his teammates are sure playing like that to this point.
“That’s 52-53 games from now,” Davis said. “We’re not worried about that right now. We’re trying to worry about us and be better each day. The West is tough. It’s a tough conference, and any team you go against — whether it’s in the playoffs or regular season — it’s going to be a great game.”