All-Star power forward Anthony Davis said the road would be a good place for the New Orleans Pelicans.
The way Davis saw it, the Pelicans were not quite there with their cohesiveness and the way they played off each other after he returned from injury, even though they made a giant step during the second half of Saturday’s home victory against the Detroit Pistons.
The Pelicans had looked out of sync in the two games before that.
“It’s hard, especially with your star player, you want to give him the ball,” Davis said. “Everybody else, when I was out, were moving the ball, having fun. Now, we have to get (me) touches. It’s tough. And, guys started to lose their rhythm.”
Coach Monty Williams said he didn’t want Davis doing too much adjusting, that it was more on the rest of the Pelicans to adjust to him.
“I want him to continue to be who he is, a dominant player on both ends of the court,” Williams said.
With the Pelicans (36-29) now on a three-game winning streak, it appears they have adjusted. They have begun to play exciting, winning basketball again, such as when they won five in a row without Davis, in which several players were scoring. Williams said at the beginning of the streak that he also was encouraged by the Pelicans’ reserves contributing in other ways when they are not scoring.
The Pelicans, who are seven games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2010-11 season, have won nine of their past 11 games. That’s the best stretch since New Orleans won 10 in a row from Jan. 9 to Jan. 26, 2011.
Now the Pelicans are in the midst of four consecutive days without a game. That allows them to rest and work in practice on keeping a good thing going. It also enables them to get back to player development work, a stable of the team but which usually doesn’t occur on the road.
However, while teammates appear to have successfully adjusted to Davis’ return, it also looks as though he has done the same. In the game Monday at Milwaukee, the sixth-place team in the Eastern Conference, Davis tied a career-high with 43 points. What may have been lost among the spectacular 17-of-23 shooting and 10 rebounds is that he also had six assists.
Then, on Tuesday night at Brooklyn, he scored 15 points in limited action, as the Pelicans had a comfortable lead most of the second half. In that game, though, he had five assists.
Backup center Alexis Ajinca has attributed some of his improved play to having gotten tips from Davis, particularly regarding defending and rebounding. However, Davis seems to have taken a page out of Ajinca’s book.
During New Orleans’ five-game winning streak from Feb. 21-March 1, a noticeable change in Ajinca’s game was his passing. Having established himself as a scorer, he began looking for teammates while in the lane for what Williams calls “buddy passes” inside.
Davis, who has been uncanny with his shooting on the perimeter, has begun to drive into the lane more and pass to teammates such as small forward Quincy Pondexter and point guard Norris Cole for 3-point opportunities and other perimeter shots.
After the four days off, the Pelicans play five games in eight days, starting with Sunday’s matchup against Denver at the Smoothie King Center. They then have a return match against Milwaukee at home on Tuesday.
However, with New Orleans locked in a duel with Oklahoma City (35-28 heading into Wednesday) for the eighth playoff spot, that’s when the fun starts.
From March 19-22, the Pelicans play big Western Conference road games at Phoenix, which is in the 10th spot chasing, then the next night, March 20 in a huge challenge at Golden State, followed by one at the Los Angeles Clippers.
It will be the start of 14 of their final 17 games being played against Western competition, with 10 of the foes in playoff contention.
The regained cohesiveness, if they can hold on to it, has come in the nick of time.