Checking the scores of the New Orleans Pelicans’ last two wins understandably causes a double-take.
Is this the final score? Or the end of the third quarter?
In consecutive games, the Pelicans held opponents to season lows as part of blowout wins, starting in Saturday’s 133-98 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers and continuing in Monday’s 114-95 romp over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Yes. That’s 95 and 98 points allowed.
That's nearly 20 fewer points than their opponents’ 114.6 scoring average, the sixth-worst mark in the NBA.
And although it came against the league’s Nos. 25 and 26 offenses, the limited scoring output is still an important benchmark in the Pelicans’ quest to turn around their abysmal defense in the second half of this season.
“After Brooklyn, we watched film and kind of just talked about how we can be better,” Anthony Davis said, referring to the Pelicans' 126-121 road loss Jan. 2. “Everybody is thinking defense and we are ranked 20-something, and we are not that kind of defensive team. That’s how we were able to get in it last year ... by playing defense. We were able to get back to it against Cleveland and then (Monday).
“We were being scrappy and being aggressive, and when we play like that defensively it allows us to get a bunch of transition points and easy buckets. It gives guys wide-open 3s and stuff like that. So we just get back to defense and let the rest take care of itself.”
Whether the turnaround is a result of the opponent, the defensive principles or simple work ethic depends on who you ask around the Pelicans.
While the Pelicans’ defensive game plan shifts from night-to-night depending on the opponent, several players said there’s been a more consistent approach in recent days, allowing them to have a better feel for what’s expected of them.
“It’s strategic a little bit,” Julius Randle said. “Just on the principles.”
And it’s paying dividends thus far.
“I think we kind of finally came to an agreement on what we want to do,” Holiday said. “Defense is hard. That’s how it’s going to have to be. We know sometimes they’re going to make good plays offensively, but as long as we keep people out of the paint and run them off of 3s, that we’re going to be OK.”
For his part, coach Alvin Gentry said the game plans haven’t been altered much.
He just thinks the Pelicans are playing at a higher level and the difference in energy can be enough to transform the defense like it did a year ago, when New Orleans improved from the league’s No. 19 defensive efficiency before the All-Star break to the No. 7 one after it.
And it flipped the entire season, allowing New Orleans to finish 20-8 and earn a playoff berth. It’s the type of performance they’d like to replicate against the Cavs at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Smoothie King Center.
“I think the principle we changed is that we are competing and playing harder,” Gentry said. “As far as the system, we haven’t really changed much at all. It’s just, I think we went back and put a lot more emphasis on team-first situations and then we also emphasized we have to contain the ball more, because when the ball is in our paint it produces all kinds of problems and situations.
“I think the last two games we have done a better job in that area.”
Now the Pelicans will attempt to seize their first modicum of momentum in nearly two months, hoping to build a winning streak off the back of their defense.
“I think we were on a string,” point guard Elfrid Payton said after Monday’s win. “Everybody was helping each other and we were communicating at a high level. That’s something we have been talking about, so to see it translate on the court for us, that was huge.”