Admit it, no one expected the Pelicans to be here. 31-27, just a half game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the 8th and final playoff spot? If, like some, you turned off the Miami Heat game on Saturday after both Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson left due to injury the current situation is quite a shock.
Four game winning streak? Quincy Pondexter and Alexis Ajinca had career nights in the same week? Eric Gordon is still on fire behind the arc? Omer Asik has blocked game tying layup attempts twice in the final 20 seconds? This does not make any sense.
New Orleans is playing with house money until Anthony Davis returns from a shoulder strain. Only the dedicated (and possibly insane) Pelican fans still believe this team has a chance. Monty Williams, as I said last Sunday, coaches best when his team is counted out.
The locker room is coalescing around an "us against the world" mentality. Quincy Pondexter has noted that "the media" had already counted the Pels out. Local sports "personalities" come to the Smoothie King Center with a half written obituary in hand only to leave disappointed.
Now to take this show on the road. The last time the Pels won four games in a row the Nuggets ended the winning streak on January 27th. Since that game Denver has traded away Arron Afflalo and JaVale McGee while signing European prospect Joffrey Lauvergne.
Denver is just 2-18 in their last 20 games. Their two wins are over the Pelicans and Lakers in that span. The Nuggets have lost three straight home games by double figures this week.
The last time New Orleans pulled out a victory in Denver was January 9th, 2012. Carl Landry, Marco Belinelli, and Chris Kaman led the way for the then-Hornets. The Pelicans are riding a six game losing streak in the Pepsi Center.
Keys to Victory
Step Up: In each recent win the Pelicans have received unexpected contributions. Eric Gordon melted the Heat. Omer Asik became an offensive force. Quincy Pondexter and Alexis Ajinca set career highs in scoring. Norris Cole was on fire his first three games with the Pels.
In order to win tonight New Orleans cannot depend solely on Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon to carry the load. If Jusuf Nurkic (ankle) is unable to play the Nugget front court will consist of 6'9" tweeners J.J. Hickson, Kenneth Faried, and Darrell Arthur. Alexis Ajinca is the best candidate for a big game. He must find a way to stay out of foul trouble.
Kick 'em While They're Down: Read this excerpt from the most recent recap over at Denver Stiffs.
It didn't get better through a the bulk of the evening, as aside from a few sparse moments of inspired play, Denver went down meekly to the 20-38 Utah Jazz (who have been playing decent ball of late, but STILL). The fight, air, and heart of this Nuggets squad have disappeared, and unless they can find some or all of those elements again, it will be a long 24 games over the next 47 days.
Get up quickly on Denver and the team will simply fold. The Utah Jazz got up 17-3 in the early going against the Nuggets Friday night and never looked back. The Nuggets are a talented but broken team right now. Do not provide the opening for them to remember how good they are at basketball.
Make Shots: Until further notice, the key for the Pels is to make shots. The ball going through the basket does not just put points on the board. It energizes the defense, encourages quality ball movement to continue, and reinforces the message from the coaching staff and recent winning veteran additions on the court.
During the current winning streak the Pelicans are shooting 41.7% behind the arc. Gordon, Pondexter, and Luke Babbitt are providing the heavy lifting but Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole have chipped in too. Keep making shots and the rest will fall into place.
What: Pelicans at Nuggets
Where: The Pepsi Center
When: March 1st, 7:00 PM
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, League Pass