A six-game losing streak earlier this month unmasked the New Orleans Pelicans’ fragility.
A resounding 126-110 win over the first-place Toronto Raptors displayed the Pelicans’ dynamic potency and capability.
While contradictory, both statements are true.
Monday’s romp was not only the Pelicans’ third consecutive victory, vaulting them back over .500, it also served notice to the rest of the league. New Orleans can beat just about any opponent, on any court, on any given night.
However, the recently-snapped losing streak was similarly illuminating, showing just how difficult it is to perform at the necessary level to do so.
But, when drawing out priorities in mid-November, seeing vast potential far outweighs the appeal of consistency. And these Pelicans showed they’re capable of beating the best the Eastern Conference has to offer.
“We just had to get back to it,” Anthony Davis said after the game. “We lost five in a row on the road and we’re a better road team than that. We are a good road team. We just have to be dominant on the road again and this was our next road game, so we had it in our mind that we wanted to come out.
“It was a good test for us. The best team in the East and we’re on the road, so we just made a conscious effort to get this one.”
Davis said the Pelicans approached it like a “Finals matchup”, expressing exactly where he considers this team’s ceiling to be.
Then, they went out and proved him right. The Pelicans won in dominating fashion, outscoring the previously 12-1 Raptors by 18 points during a whirlwind 20-minute stretch of the second half.
New Orleans unleashed a torrent of weapons, led by Jrue Holiday’s defense (holding Kyle Lowry to four points), Davis’ rebounding (grabbing 20), and E’Twaun Moore’s floater (spurring a 30-point outburst), as they saddled Toronto with its first home loss of the season.
More impressive than the result, was the circumstance surrounding it.
New Orleans was missing a pair of starters, point guard Elfrid Payton and forward Nikola Mirotic, while matched up against the NBA’s deepest rotation. But, the Pelicans’ thin bench held firm, not conceding the disastrous second and third quarter runs that doomed them during the prolonged losing streak.
New Orleans tallied the league’s second-worst defensive efficiency during the six-game skid, but have rallied ever since, posting the league’s No. 4 efficiency during the past three wins. It portends what could still come, if Monday’s effort is replicated for most of the next six months.
The next test comes Wednesday night in Minnesota, where the Pelicans face the Timberwolves at 7 p.m. in the Target Center.
Put simply, when Holiday and Davis are healthy and the rest of the roster is properly supporting, the Pelicans can flummox nearly any opponent. Monday proved it.
It’s why Holiday admitted this was the Pelicans’ best performance of the season.
“I think so,” Holiday told Pelicans’ radio. “Maybe just because of the competition and maybe just because of where we are at in the season. They’re 12-2 now. I think the first four games we played pretty well and locked in defensively and this team has a lot of firepower and we were able to do it again.”
The Pelicans left little doubt about what’s possible. But, considering what transpired just weeks ago, there’s skittishness about claiming Monday to be a statement win.
It’s why coach Alvin Gentry wasn’t reading into any deeper context, despite the magnitude of the win. He already knew the Pelicans’ potential, now he wants to produce the consistency.
For everyone else, though, it was a strong message about what could come next.
“We have 69 more to go,” Gentry said after Monday’s win. “I will talk to you after the 69th one. It’s one loss, this is a great team that we played. (Raptors’ coach) Nick (Nurse) has done a really good job with this team and the way they play.
“We played really good tonight and we beat them but it’s one game. I’d like to say this is going to springboard us but it’s one game and they understand that too. It’s a good win for us on the road against a very good team.”