The concept of momentum is tricky.
If it exists at all, how does a team gain momentum without any of it to start with?
That’s the quandary facing the New Orleans Pelicans during the past six weeks, as their ongoing quest to climb out of the Western Conference’s cellar keeps getting delayed. They haven’t posted consecutive wins since Nov. 19, losing seven straight games after a victory, short-circuiting any chance of building the streak required to vault themselves toward playoff contention.
It’s a status the Pelicans are keenly aware of.
“We just need to string some wins together,” Anthony Davis said last week. “We can’t afford to keep losing these games or going back and forth. We have to build a streak and we know how to do it.”
And, if not now, when?
After thrashing the last-place Cavaliers 133-98 on Saturday night in Cleveland, the Pelicans come home to host the Cavs on Wednesday, with a date against the scuffling Memphis Grizzlies in between.
The Grizzlies enter Monday’s 7 p.m. tipoff at the Smoothie King Center on a five-game losing streak and have dropped 10 of 12 games over the past month. Then the Pelicans end the week in Minnesota, against the 18-21 Timberwolves, who are also stuck near the bottom of the Western Conference.
Add in the likely return of sharpshooting forward Nikola Mirotic, who has missed the past 11 games healing from a sprained right ankle, and it seems this week is lining up perfectly for the Pelicans.
So, if there’s ever a time to build a streak and capitalize on it, it’s right now.
The Pelicans haven’t employed a healthy roster in their past 35 games, missing either Mirotic or point guard in Elfrid Payton for prolonged stretches. And they will get a chance to re-deploy those full rotations against opponents lacking equal firepower.
But, considering how this season has gone, the Pelicans know there are no guarantees for garnering momentum.
“What we have to do is develop consistency on it,” Gentry said after Saturday’s blowout win. “We can’t do it this game and not do it the next game. We have to be able to take it from practice to the game situations and we have to be able to do it night after night after night, not just one night here and one night there.”
It’s not a simple adjustment to make. Consistency doesn’t spring from one factor.
But, if the Pelicans can’t capture it now, the path back up the standings becomes particularly daunting.
Starting next week, eight of the Pelicans’ next 10 opponents currently occupy a playoff position. Six of those games are on the road, where New Orleans has posted a 5-16 record.
So, even if the Pelicans can snap their nagging stretch of mediocrity and build into this week, it’s merely a temporary salve until they face one of the most daunting stretches of the season.
In the meantime, any wins are critical wins for the Pelicans. And Saturday’s victory in Cleveland gives way to a forgiving schedule this week, so the Pelicans are not in position to concern themselves about what’s coming down the road.
Instead, they need to capture what went right on Saturday, and learn how to replicate it. It’s the only way that elusive momentum, if it’s even out there, can take root.
“We defended,” Davis said in Cleveland. “I think it was probably our best game in my eyes defensively that we’ve had. We talked a lot. We were helping each other so when we talk and fly around on the defensive end, we are able to win games like this.
“This can’t just be a win and a one-time thing because it’s Cleveland, we got to do this next game, and the game after that, in order to get to where we want to be.”