Don’t be ashamed.
You didn’t see this coming. Neither did I, or anyone else around the NBA, really.
The New Orleans Pelicans shook off the despondence following DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending injury to ride an improbable seven-game winning streak. They’ve done it in heart-stopping, gut-twisting and awe-inspiring fashion.
Close win after close win after close win after ... you get the point. Seven straight times.
Five of the seven victories were within a point in the final minute of regulation. Three weren’t sealed until overtime.
They didn’t all come with style points, but they count equally in the standings. Strung together, those wins mark the franchise’s best stretch since 2011, when Anthony Davis was a senior in high school and the team wore teal and yellow.
It’s been a heady few weeks. And it came seemingly out of nowhere.
Two months ago, I used this space to tell Pelicans fans you deserved better from the organization. At the time, inconsistent performance was derived from uneven effort, leading to a series of baffling losses and unrelenting apathy from the region.
It was time to do something.
Well, to my surprise, the Pelicans delivered. They’ve rattled off a 17-8 record since Jan. 2 and sit just a half-game outside of the top 4 in the Western Conference standings, and they have done it in an inspiring way.
Not only are they in the thick of the playoff race and in the midst of their best two-month stretch since 2015, but the Pelicans also successfully recalibrated themselves in an eight-week span. First, New Orleans tallied eight wins in nine games with Cousins on the floor, battering opponents in the post and overwhelming them with a wealth of talent.
This run, however, is more character-revealing.
It comes in the wake of Cousins’ injury and on the heels of a dispiriting four-game losing streak. That combination appeared to leave the Pelicans' season for dead.
Then a lone eyebrow dramatically rose from the dirt.
Davis called off the dirges and pulled himself into the MVP race by posting four 40-plus point outings and becoming the first player to average 35 points and 10 rebounds in a month since Moses Malone. He’s carried them in rough patches and is making winning plays when it’s most needed, checking all of the boxes required of an MVP candidate.
Any talk of Davis shrinking from big moments should be silenced by the crucial 1-on-3 offensive rebound he pulled down in Wednesday’s win in San Antonio, preserving a trademark victory by using his size, strength and hustle. It completed the first 15-point, second-half road comeback any NBA team has made on the Spurs in 211 games.
Yes. That’s two-hundred and eleven. Every NBA team fell victim during that streak.
It was ended by the Pelicans, and although these weren't the vintage Tim Duncan Spurs, it was emblematic of New Orleans' newfound resiliency. And proof Davis isn’t acting alone.
In fact, he’s paired with Jrue Holiday to form the type of pick-and-roll duo Pelicans fans have hoped to see for five years. Together, they’ve attacked defenses with fury, forcing them to choose between the versatile scorers at the basket or popping into the midrange.
Since Cousins went down, Davis has nearly doubled his rate of set screens, a sign of the transforming Pelicans offense and the strategic evolution necessary to cope with losing Cousins and find a different stride.
“I’m not going to lie,” Holiday said. “It’s been fun.”
The roster around them filled in the cracks. A deadline deal for Nikola Mirotic added length on the wing, while Rajon Rondo cranked up the NBA’s fastest pace and Ian Clark caught fire from the bench.
So it comes as no surprise that those close to the team say this is the most cohesive New Orleans roster since Chris Paul left town. It shows up when you see them sharing the ball to erase a double-digit lead or laughing together postgame in the locker room.
Credit also belongs to the maligned Dell Demps and Alvin Gentry, who’ve shaken off criticism and overcome suffocating cap restraints to build a roster capable of competing — and then shifting the on-court strategy to make it work.
“I’m just trying to do my part,” Davis said. “Everyone is doing their job, and together it’s been exactly what we’ve needed.”
The bottom line is the Pelicans are finally playing the brand of basketball people in this state have clamored for. It’s star-driven, but team-oriented. It’s fast-paced but rarely reckless.
Primarily, it’s engendered winning.
The Pelicans have never done this.
Admittedly, this team is not perfect, and a few rattles of the rim could’ve altered the results greatly. And sure, the remaining 21 games may not be as good as the past 25.
But right now, this team is producing. And they’re having fun doing it.
So it’s time the city joins them. They’ve certainly earned it the hard way.