It’s 939 days in the making.
On Thursday night in Toronto the New Orleans Pelicans will take the floor protecting a winning record rather than climbing towards one for the first time since April 15, 2015.
The 6-5 record won’t set off a coronation as they conclude a four-game road trip against the Raptors at 6:30 p.m., but it’s a milestone worthy of recognition. It’s just the 59th time in the franchise’s past 488 games (dating to 2011) it will enter a regular-season contest with a winning record.
Considering the Pelicans opened each of the past two seasons 1-9, it also represents a significant shift in trajectory.
“I think what it does is show that we don’t have ourselves in a deep hole,” coach Alvin Gentry said Tuesday. “With all of the injuries that have happened the two years that we’ve been here, it’s been tough. We’ve played guys we picked up off the wavier wire. And now we have guys coming back that are going to give us more depth.
“We are in a situation where we like the players we have and like the rotations we have. We just have to continue to play good, hard-nosed basketball.”
Those qualities were exemplified during the Pelicans’ current three-game winning streak, clinching road victories over the Dallas Mavericks, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers in the final minutes. During each win, the Pelicans overcame stretches of sloppy and uninspired play.
Never was it more apparent than when the Pelicans rallied from a 14-point deficit Tuesday in Indiana, regrouping for a 117-112 win after they surrendered a season-high 75 points in the first half.
“I was terrible in the pick-and-roll (defense) at the start of the game,” DeMarcus Cousins said Wednesday. “I think that gave them confidence and they tried to keep going to it and trying to milk it. So I had to tighten up, honestly, because I was awful.”
The rest of the Pelicans joined him.
The Pacers' shooting percentage dipped from 63.8 percent to 30.4 percent between halves as New Orleans quickly clawed back into the lead and then held on in the final minutes. It served as an illustration of the Pelicans’ potential, but also showed how far they are from establishing consistency.
“We just came out (of the locker room) strong,” Anthony Davis said. “We brought defensive pressure, defensive tenacity and when we do that, it’s tough for teams to score. We just have to try and do that for 48 minutes and not 24. We’re happy we got this win. We did what we had to do to get the win in the second half. But if we want to be a good team, we’ve got to be able to do it for the whole 48.”
There’s been little for the Pelicans to rely on beyond the outsized offensive production of Cousins and Davis, whose names litter the NBA’s leaderboard, earning top-5 rankings in: Minutes, points, rebounds, blocks, double-doubles and player efficiency rating.
But even on some of the duo’s gaudiest statistical nights, the Pelicans have failed to win. It requires defense, energy and an ability to close games that has largely eluded this franchise for the past six years.
It’s partially why Davis’ postgame comments Wednesday were more regretful of the hole they had to dig out of rather than celebrating the comeback.
“Play defense — that’s all we did,” Davis said, referring to the team's adjustment after halftime. “They played harder than us and got a lot of 50-50 balls. We said those need to be 80-20 balls this half and we need to sit down and guard our man. That’s all we had to do in the second half.”
No matter how simple the solution, the Pelicans are winning more often than not these days. And based on the franchise’s history, it’s not something to be taken for granted.
“We are not a team that quits,” Cousins said. “That’s what I love about this team.”