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Pelicans flash an identity, emerge victorious over Mavericks

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New Orleans added another impressive victory to their season resume, making their overall record all the more troubling upon reflection.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

To paraphrase Joel Meyers, the Pelicans imposed their will against the Mavericks tonight, and it resulted in a rare victory within Dallas city limits.

What does that entail, you might ask?

New Orleans dictated the pace of play (102.46 pace factor), the small-ball lineup rebounded well (Pelicans out-rebounded Mavericks by 20 boards), the energy was in their favor (19-12 fast break points and 9-3 offensive rebounds), all the while the team defended well as a whole (4th time in 7 games Pelicans have held the opponent to under 100 points).

This type of recipe will win ball games, and this was Alvin Gentry's promise some 30-odd games ago. The Mavericks are a good home team, and as mentioned in the quick recap, they have simply dominated the Pelicans throughout recent history.

Not tonight.

In his post-game comments, Alvin Gentry thought that everyone contributed something positive, but he did single out Norris Cole and the team's overall defense. Eric Gordon was also effusive in his praise of Cole. "Very important. He was attacking relentlessly towards the rim. He was a big key part to winning this game."

In the quick recap, I stated I had mixed reviews of Cole's performance. There were times when he settled for too many long jumpers (some coming within seconds of one another), needlessly fouled an opponent or simply tried to do too much.

The coaching staff wasn't any different in their opinion. Toney Douglas replaced Cole just a 1:33 into the game after J.J. Barea scored much too easily on a lay-in. Then coming out of a timeout with 50 seconds remaining, the Pelicans up five and possession of the ball, Cole was whistled for a blatant offensive foul on Barea. That just can't happen at that point of the game.

NEVER.

Thankfully, the several teaching moments didn't deter him from having a number of positive moments. Cole was a big reason why the Pelicans destroyed the Mavericks 53-33 on the boards. He had 12 rebounds on his own, a new career high and just the second time in his career he's had 10 or more. Cole also added 4 steals, and he pushed the ball enough for it to be beneficial to the team.

Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised by Cole's stat line production. After the loss to the ClippersCole claimed, "My body's starting to feel good. When your body feels good, your game comes around."

As for the team's defense, I thought it was good, not great. The Pelicans fouled early and often, leading to 10 Dallas free throws in the first quarter. The Mavericks missed a number of uncontested shots that normally drop, especially when they're making a comeback in front of their home fans in a fourth quarter of the game. During one stretch in the 4th, Dallas scored on 10 of 13 possessions. Had New Orleans not been equally as hot (scored on 10 of 12 straight possessions), the outcome could have been very different.

However, the Mavericks did cool enough in the final 3 minutes of the game. Perhaps the Pelicans finally caught a schedule break? The Mavericks were on the second night of a back-to-back after falling to the Miami Heat on New Year's Day.

If you're an optimist, I must first applaud you, but maybe Gordon's post-game words held some truth. "We've been healthy for last 10 games, now it's about building chemistry."

It wouldn't be farfetched to believe. At the start of the year, the team was missing a number of regular rotation players due to injury. However, even though they've been healthy for a stretch, most of December was more practice than a true indicator of the team's personnel under Gentry. It's hard to look your best when you're trying to find your individual game while learning a brand new system among the rest of a confused group of players. Indeed, with each passing game, the effort seems better, they're less frequently out of position and they're making plays.

For instance, Anthony Davis flipped the switch tonight on after a quick talk with Gentry. The players are beginning to respond?

Before we call it a night, I want to mention one last tidbit from Gordon: "Yeah, it's one of our biggest games of the year. Locked down defense and moved the ball."

If you believe, it must be true? Hey, it's good that this team still believes. Regardless of whether the postseason comes knocking, it's important the season results in a gigantic teaching moment. Otherwise, we may have to legitimately talk about blowing it up. Can't have a team that doesn't respond to the coaching staff and a group of young players who have soured on their future together in New Orleans.

Starting from scratch after four years of Anthony Davis? THAT would be the worst case scenario, not the team finishing with a mediocre record resulting in a draft pick just outside the juicy part of the lottery. Trust me. History has proven fringe playoff teams that add an important piece fare much better than teams that consistently talk about high draft picks year after year.