Obviously there wasn’t the emotional impact of the last time they met.
But for the Pelicans, Friday’s 104-90 victory over the San Antonio Spurs represented something else.
“It gives you hope,” said Doug Arena, a fan from Chalmette who was present that night in April for the Pels’ playoff-clinching victory against the Spurs. “They’re coming together as a team.”
Actually, if you listen to the coaches and players, the feeling that the team was emerging from the hole that the staggering amount of injuries had created to start the season began with Wednesday’s loss at Oklahoma City. It was the Pels’ 11th defeat in 12 games — 15th in 16 if you add being swept in the first round of the playoffs last season against Golden State following that memorable night when confetti fell at the Smoothie King Center.
And as Norris Cole, one of three Pelicans players who have yet to see the floor this season, said, “it’s a lot easier to learn from a win than a loss.”
That goes double, maybe triple, when you beat the Spurs.
Golden State may be the defending champion and is off to a start of historic proportions, and LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are the team to beat in the East, but Gregg Popovich and the Spurs are the gold standard when it comes to a feeling of accomplishment when you’re able to beat them.
And don’t think the Spurs didn’t have a little extra incentive Friday.
Pop talked before the game about how that last game still stuck in his craw because it dropped his team from the No. 2 seed in the West to No. 6, which led to a Game 7 elimination by the Los Angeles Clippers.
Plus it’s hard to imagine Popovich letting his team take anyone lightly.
“No doubt,” said the Pelicans’ Ryan Anderson, who had 30 points both Friday and at OKC. “They’re a great all-around team with a lot of guys who have played together for a long time. They were coming in here on a winning streak (six straight), but we went out and didn’t just play with them, we beat them. You build off something like this.”
Especially when you play like the team did Friday.
Point guard Ish Smith — who in six seasons incredibly has spent time with 10 teams, has been part of a trade five times and has been cut six more — had a career-best 13 assists along with 17 points, most notably a shot clock-beating 3-pointer after Anthony Davis’ memorable block of a LaMarcus Aldridge shot that put the Pels ahead by nine with 4:13 left.
Smith’s status is still so shaky that his name hasn’t been stenciled above his locker like the rest of the players — “I’m superstitious, so I want it left that way,” he said — but Friday’s performance was his third double-digit assist game of the season.
“The guys were really easy to find tonight,” Smith said. “And they were making shots. You could see this coming with the way we’ve been playing and practicing. I just thank God for the opportunity to be with these guys.”
What Smith’s role will be once Cole and Tyreke Evans return, possibly this week, remains to be seen.
And how long the team will take to jell when everybody gets back is anybody’s guess.
Meanwhile, the season moves on.
Phoenix comes to the SKC on Sunday, then come four games in five on the road before the Cavaliers visit Dec. 4.
When you’re still nine games under .500 and five games out of the last playoff berth as of Saturday — the Pels were never more than two games under .500 and three games out of the No. 8 playoff berth last season — it’s obviously an uphill climb, even if the schedule does get a bit more forgiving in the upcoming weeks.
Pro Basketball Reference on Saturday gave the Pels a 3 percent chance of making the playoffs. It also gave them an 8.5 percent chance of winding up with the No. 1 pick.
But as another fan, Jesse Coleman of LaPlace, said Friday, “We’ve probably got too many injuries to overcome. But at the end of the season, we’re going to be a team nobody wants to face.”