Alvin Gentry wasn’t going to be caught off guard.
The New Orleans Pelicans’ coach may have treaded into hyperbolic territory, but he wouldn’t overlook the scuffling Brooklyn Nets.
“This team is probably the most dangerous team in the league to play,” Gentry said prior to tipoff.
The message resonated with his team, who took the scare tactics seriously enough to grab the early advantage and never relinquish it, carrying the Pelicans to a resounding and record-breaking 128-113 victory on Wednesday night in the Smoothie King Center.
It was their third consecutive win, pushing New Orleans two games above .500 for the first time in more than a month, and solidifying its position in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
On Wednesday, the Pelicans used its massive height advantage to bully the Nets from the inside out, opening up a 30-point lead early in the third quarter and coasting from there.
From the opening tip, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis pounded a Brooklyn lineup devoid of big men, posting up from the low block to invite double teams, before taking it straight to the hole or dishing out for a wide-open 3-pointer.
Point guard Rajon Rondo was more than happy to supply the seemingly endless run of open shooters, dishing a jaw-dropping 25 assists, setting a franchise record and setting a career best. Rondo greased the wheels of New Orleans’ relentless offensive attack as Brooklyn defenders were run over, pushed around and dribbled past for most of the 48 minutes.
Late in the fourth quarter, Rondo even decided to score two points for himself.
His passing led to the Pelicans converting 14 of their first 23 3-pointers (61 percent), capitalizing on the myriad of looks generated by a crashing and scrambling Nets defense. Crisp ball movement ensured Brooklyn would remain overmatched against the oversized Pelicans, even when they surrounded the low block with bodies.
"We try to do that most nights,” Gentry said before the game. “But, obviously, a night like tonight, we'll try to take advantage of that. They're very good at swarming the basketball. That's where we have to be very good at picking our spots and still being able to move the basketball and get shots because of the double teams.”
It was done as easily as it was said.
The stats added up quickly, and if not for benching all of the starters midway through the third, it could’ve been a record-setter for more than Rondo. Outside of a 19-0 run Brooklyn ripped off against the Pelicans’ bench, New Orleans’ domination was thorough.
While Rondo’s numbers were gaudiest, eliciting a standing ovation from an appreciative home crowd, he wasn’t along in posting impressive stat lines.
Davis set the pace, tallying 33 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks. He was followed closely behind by Cousins (27points, 14 rebounds), Jrue Holiday (23 points) and E’Twaun Moore (20 points).
It was a picture-perfect start to the Pelicans’ three-game homestand, fresh off of a three-day break.
Now, New Orleans looks to tally its first four-game winning streak of the season, awaiting the Dallas Mavericks on Friday and New York Knicks a night later. And considering the Pelicans have strung together three straight blowout wins, pulverizing the Eastern Conference, there’s ample reason for confidence brewing in their locker room.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to win all three,” Davis said. “We’ve just got to come out and do it. The first game back since the holidays is going to be a tough one, but we have to have the mindset that we want to come out and put these guys away — knowing they’re coming off a back-to-back and lost six out of seven. It’s a good opportunity for us starting tonight."