Ever since Endymion rolled through the streets of New Orleans, the Pelicans have been winners.
If it seems like a long time since the garish floats paraded down Orleans Avenue, it’s not a deception. There’s not even any remnants of spray paint divvying up the neutral ground.
In other words, it’s been a while.
Ten consecutive wins, stretching over 29 days, has transformed the Pelicans' season from one on the brink of disaster to a source of league-wide admiration.
Wednesday’s 114-101 win over the Sacramento Kings put the exclamation point on a perfect four-game Western Conference road trip and officially tied the longest winning streak in franchise history. It also nestled the Pelicans into the all-important No. 4 seed in the West standings, suddenly in a realistic position to gain home-court advantage in a playoff series for the first time since 2007-08.
En route to getting there, the Pelicans will attempt to set a franchise record by tallying their 11th consecutive win, returning home to face the Washington Wizards at 7 p.m. in the Smoothie King Center.
“If you’re a New Orleans fan, that team is playing very, very well,” Kings’ coach Dave Joerger said. “They’re well-coached, they’re in a rhythm, they’ve got experience and they’ve got shooting all over the place so they have a lot of space to make plays. It was tough cover for us (Wednesday) and obviously they shot the basketball well but they were very, very comfortable just looking over the top of us and just shooting.
“Hats off to them. Like I said, they’re playing very well and I wish them the best in the playoffs.”
While the current trend might suggest the Pelicans’ are comfortably in the postseason, their position is far from secured. The 10-game winning streak has only built a 3 ½ game cushion from the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, two of whom are on the outside looking in.
And when Anthony Davis landed awkwardly on the foot of Kings’ center Kosta Koufos, and needed to be taken to the locker room for X-Rays on his ankle (which came back negative), it showed just how fragile the remaining 18 games really are.
Yet, even without Davis available, the Pelicans also proved they’re not immediately cratering. As Davis was examined in the locker room during the fourth quarter, Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic used a previously-unexplored two-man game to fend off the suddenly hot-shooting Kings.
The pair combined for 19 points on 10 fourth-quarter shots, making four 3-pointers and keeping Sacramento at arm’s length.
“Everybody on this team understands their role and what they need to do,” Mirotic said. “Bench guys, starters and this team is just not a selfish team. Sometimes we have to take tough shots because it’s part of the game, but we’ve been trying to have a good selection of shots and find the guy who is hot at that moment.
“It’s been fun and these guys have been amazing.”
The next challenge is to replicate the success inside of the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans’ 21-14 road record is the fifth best in the NBA, but New Orleans is just 17-12 on its home floor, the worst mark among any of the Top 10 in the heated Western Conference playoff race.
And they’ll be tested plenty on their home floor. Eight of the Pelicans’ next nine games unfold in New Orleans, including matchups against six opponents with winning records.
In the meantime, the Pelicans are hoping another set of parades — this time for St. Patrick’s Day — will spur on yet another run of good fortune.
“We’ve been an up-and-down team at home — we’ve been a better road team,” Davis said. “But it feels good to go back home and play in front of our fans again, sleep in our own beds. We have to take care of business. We have some tough teams coming in there starting with Washington on Friday — a team that embarrassed us up in D.C. (a 116-106 loss), so we owe them one. But we have to make sure we come out with the same mentality no matter who we’re playing.”