New Orleans Pelicans All-Star power forward Anthony Davis, who sat out Friday’s win against the Los Angeles Clippers, was listed as probable to play Monday against the Atlanta Hawks.
His return would be a great development for any game the Pelicans play. But he’d be extra helpful this time around.
The high-flying Hawks (40-19) have won 19 games in a row, setting an NBA record for wins in a month by going 17-0 in January. An Eastern Conference team, the Hawks have knocked off 12 consecutive foes from the stronger Western Conference, which is “Exhibit A” in the argument for Atlanta being the best team in the league.
“You have to be really, really good to (go unbeaten for a month),” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “And you can’t say it’s an East or West thing — because they’re beating up on everybody.”
This season, the Pelicans have defeated the Spurs, Rockets, Mavericks, Cavaliers, Raptors, Grizzlies and Clippers — all legitimate contenders for a conference title.
The Hawks, coached by Mike Budenholzer (a Spurs assistant for 18 years), play unselfish, precision basketball. All five starters average in double figures, but none scores more than 17.2 points per game. They bring a different challenge than most teams.
“They have so many (big men) who can do multiple things, whether they’re shooting or passing or driving the ball, it’s a different dynamic,” Williams said.
The Hawks rank second in the NBA in assists at 26.2 per game, are fourth in the league in field-goal percentage (47.3 percent) and lead the league in 3-point shooting (38.7 percent). All five starters shoot better than 46 percent.
Starting guard Kyle Korver leads the NBA in 3-point shooting (50.0 percent), shoots 51.8 percent overall and is second in free-throw shooting (92.3 percent). The Pelicans will try to prevent Korver from being a factor by assigning physical forward Dante Cunningham to guard him, with 6-foot-6 point guard Tyreke Evans guarding Hawks small forward DeMarre Carroll and shooting guard Eric Gordon looking to slow point guard Jeff Teague.
If Davis plays, the Pelicans’ best lineup likely would be him at center, Ryan Anderson at power forward and Cunningham at small forward, joining Evans and Gordon. That’s the team’s only lineup that’s quick enough to keep up with the Hawks’ starters.
“You have to keep them in front of you, not let them get into the paint — especially (Teague),” Gordon said.
The Pelicans spent more time preparing for the Hawks than they do most teams, the players said. They draw confidence from the way they beat the Clippers, holding the league’s third-best 3-point shooting to a 7-of-28 effort in a 108-103 win, and from being intense for 48 minutes to make things uncomfortable for the opposition. That will have to be the case this time, too, Cunningham said.
“We can’t allow them to get easy looks at the 3-point line,” he said. “We have to get into Korver’s body, get into this face.”
In the first meeting between the teams, the day after Thanksgiving, New Orleans scored just 15 points in the first quarter and 28 in the first half to fall behind by 13 in a 100-91 road loss.
The Hawks offense has garnered most of the attention, but its defense is second in the league in points allowed, holding opponents to 96.1 per game. During the Hawks’ winning streak, they have outscored opponents by 12 points per game.
Davis practiced Sunday morning, but the team worked in the half court. Williams said he remains day-to-day and that he will be re-evaluated Monday morning. … Atlanta began the season 7-6, then beat the Pelicans, starting a run of 14 wins in 16 games. They were blown out by 30 points at home against Milwaukee the day after Christmas, then began their 19-game streak, making them 33-2 in their past 35 games. ...
Starting with Monday’s game, the Interstate 10 westbound ramp on the west side of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be closed for 10 months to a year for construction. Fans leaving the Smoothie King Center and heading west are urged to take alternate routes. Those routes include taking Cypress Street to Tulane Avenue via Julia and Galvez streets and entering I-10 at Carrollton Avenue; taking Dave Dixon Drive to Loyola Avenue to the Pontchartrain Expressway; and taking Poydras Street lake-bound via Clara or LaSalle streets to I-10 from the Poydras Street on-ramp.