The recovery is always more important than the fall.
It’s a lesson the New Orleans Pelicans put to use over the weekend, tallying consecutive blowout wins on the road to erase the bad taste of an uneven month, adding some pep to the holiday season.
“Did a good job, especially before the break,” guard Jrue Holiday said, succinctly summing up the winning patch.
In just 28 hours, the Pelicans bounced the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat, producing two of their best defensive outings of the season just when it appeared the season may be heading down a troubled path.
After New Orleans dropped eight of their previous 12 games, including a series of blown leads early in the month and a listless performance against the Washington Wizards last week, consternation about the Pelicans’ progress arose.
Some of it was put to rest, at least temporarily, after holding both Orlando and Miami to less than 100 points and coasting in the fourth quarter. It was the first time any Pelicans opponent posted less than 108 points in more than a month.
“It’s good for us, especially going into the break,” reserve guard Ian Clark said after his breakout performance in Saturday’s victory. “Obviously we want to keep rolling after, make sure we don’t have any slippage. For us, it’s building blocks and we know that. It’s coming down the stretch, especially when we come back from Christmas and the New Year.
“We have to start buckling down and have the foundation leading up to All-Star and after All-Star getting ready to make a playoff push.”
And as the calendar blows past the Christmas benchmark and toward 2018, the immediate future will likely play a significant role in how strong that playoff push actually is.
Starting with Wednesday night’s 7 p.m. tipoff against the Brooklyn Nets in the Smoothie King Center, the Pelicans face a particularly favorable stretch of opponents, with an opportunity to make some clearance above the .500 barometer.
Five of the next eight games are at home, and just two of those opponents hold a winning record. New Orleans also plays just one Top 3 team from either conference over the next 15 games, with a slew of peer opponents in their sights.
It’s the kind of stretch coach Alvin Gentry has spoken about often this season, expressing its importance in the grand scheme of the season.
“We can’t really worry about the Golden States, Houstons and San Antonios and those elite teams right now,” Gentry said two weeks ago. “We have to start with beating the teams near us in the standings — like Denver, Portland and Utah — and build our record that way. Those games are the ones you look at when the season is almost over and see some losses that could’ve been wins and see they’re a game or two ahead in the standings and those are the ones that can either keep you out of the playoffs entirely or be the difference between the 7-seed and the 5-seed.”
Ultimately, if the Pelicans defend the way they did over the past two games, rather than the previous month, the record will likely take care of itself.
New Orleans’ offensive prowess is understandable. Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday have powered the NBA’s seventh-best offensive efficiency rating this year and have shown rare signs of slowing down.
And after consecutive locked-in performances on other end, it’s displayed why the Pelicans have remained confident that they’re not a fringe playoff team, but one who can be a serious contender.
"We're not a .500 team,” DeMarcus Cousins said on Friday. “We're not. Our goals are a lot higher. We're on the right path, but we're still learning each other, still finding our way. With some consistency, we can become a top team.”