The Utah Jazz sent a message to the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night.
They’re coming for the Pelicans’ spot.
Utah obliterated New Orleans in the opening minutes of each half and carried that cushion into a dominating 133-109 victory in the Smoothie King Center.
The Jazz made 14 of 21 shots from 3-point range and shot 58.4 percent overall. The Pelicans' only lead was at 2-0.
It was the Jazz’s sixth consecutive victory as it storms toward the playoff race from the No. 10 spot, just weeks after being written off by many NBA media. And now the Pelicans are in their crosshairs, losing for the fourth time in their past five games.
While New Orleans still owns a three-game advantage against Utah and recently bolstered its roster, the different trajectories are obvious and can be easily traced to their divergent injury circumstances.
Since center Rudy Gobert returned, the Jazz have reeled off a 7-2 record. Meanwhile, New Orleans is 1-4 without All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins, all double-digit losses, including three losses in as many home games.
It’s an issue the Pelicans have battled all season, but is becoming increasingly problematic with fewer than 30 games remaining. New Orleans is just 14-12 at home and a dismal 7-9 against Western Conference peers in the Smoothie King Center.
Monday served as a prime example of what’s gone wrong. Utah uncorked overwhelming runs out of both the pregame and halftime locker rooms, sucking energy out of the building and the Pelicans’ defense.
The Jazz led 23-8 six minutes into the first quarter, and a 12-2 run at the onset of the third pushed its advantage out to 18. Another Pelicans’ home game slipped away without the hosts even providing a fourth-quarter push.
“We have talked about it a lot, but it becomes very important,” coach Alvin Gentry said before the game. “We have played really good basketball on the road, but you have to be able to do it at home. Otherwise, the ones you win on the road become kind of a moot point if you can’t maintain home court.”
The Pelicans have already won more road games than in each of the past two seasons, but routinely sluggish home performances have not allowed them to gain enough traction to climb the standings.
This one sped past sluggish and into embarrassing, as Utah torched the Pelicans’ defense in nearly every facet, ripping off 99 points before the third quarter ended.
Utah converted 12 of its first 16 3-point attempts and shot better than 60 percent from the field until midway through the third quarter. Rodney Hood, whom the Jazz are openly shopping on the trade market, came off the bench to score a game-high 30 points in just 27 minutes.
New Orleans simply couldn’t keep up.
Even as Nikola Mirotic made his first Pelicans appearance in the Smoothie King Center and in the starting lineup, New Orleans added little resistance. The newcomer couldn’t provide any pop.
The former Chicago Bull, acquired in exchange for three players and a first-round pick, scored just five points on eight shots.
“We went over a bunch of stuff yesterday to try to give him a concept of what we do offensively,” Gentry said before tipoff. “I think he will get better the more games that we play, but I think he’s been pretty impressive.”
But he failed to help on Monday.
Instead, the Pelicans have lost nearly all of the ground they gained during a red-hot stretch in January and are still searching for an identity without Cousins.
“I thought we were getting it and playing well at home and figuring out how important that was,” Gentry said. “We just have to re-focus on it and get back to what we were doing.”