Just a few days ago, there was some concern about a couple of upcoming games on the schedule against two cellar-dwelling teams in the Western Conference.
Well, it’s safe to note the small hurdle as cleared.
After dispatching the Memphis Grizzlies earlier in the week, the Pelicans handed the Suns a 122-103 loss in Phoenix tonight. With the win, New Orleans vaults up to fifth place in the Western Conference, as the team holds important tiebreakers over both the Spurs and Thunder.
Although Wednesday’s 28-point win felt more comfortable, New Orleans never was in danger of falling to the Suns because the newest Big Three shined far too brightly.
Anthony Davis led all scorers with 33 points and he also added 11 rebounds, three assists, three blocks, two steals and two threes. Nikola Mirotic posted his best line as a member of the Pelicans: 31 points, 16 rebounds and five three-pointers. The rebounds marked a new career-high, while the points, a new season-high. And not to be forgotten, Jrue Holiday finished with 22 points, 10 assists, six rebounds, four threes, two steals and two blocks.
Davis has made a habit of devouring the Suns this season and Holiday has been rock solid steady for most of the year, but observing Mirotic post two consecutive solid shooting games is a new development. He’s sank eight of his last sixteen three-point attempts over the last few games, after previously going 0-5 from behind the arc against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Niko’s shooting slump had so profoundly affected him that he decided to make a significant change in his life — shaving that trademark beard completely off!
While it’s fun to ponder whether a lack of facial hair can improve one’s shooting stroke, it’s much more important to notice the growth in Mirotic’s confidence. He’s finding a lot of enjoyment in playing the game of basketball again.
“It was just one of those days when we were finding each other, playing fun basketball,” said Mirotic to Jen Hale in a postgame interview.
Most will argue that playing two teams who are avidly only seeking losses is bound to increase morale. They’re not wrong. However, there may be an additional reason for the two most recent convincing wins.
“We had a good meeting,” said Mirotic to reporters in a postgame media session. “We watched a film — just players — and we were trying to figure out how we could be more successful, offensively and defensively. I think that meeting was very helpful for us.”
It appears the Pelicans held a player’s only meeting to try and get back on track, possibly right after the four-game losing streak. Hey, whatever works because it sounds like the pow-wow fulfilled its intended purpose.
“The team will be ready,” said Mirotic. “There’s just three more games left and we need to give our best. There’s no excuses anymore, and we need to stay together and compete.”
With the Pelicans still on the verge of missing the playoffs, it’s good to hear the team realizes the urgency of the situation. However, with matchups against the Warriors, Clippers and Spurs left, they’ll likely need to play a little sharper.
“Oh, I thought we played well in spurts,” said Alvin Gentry after the win over the Suns. “I thought we sometimes had a bit of lapse in concentration, but for the most part, we did what we had to do. I thought we had good ball movement early, and then I thought we went to a little too much isolation basketball. But every time we did, we got back to what we’re accustomed to doing.”
The head coach is right. After the Pelicans had built a 20-point lead in the first quarter against the Suns, New Orleans failed to deliver that knock-out punch until late. They often settled for jumpshots instead of attacking the paint like they did in their first two contests against Phoenix. Consequently, the starters were asked to play longer minutes than originally hoped, with Mirotic (35) and Davis (34) leading the way.
That said, the Pelicans did total 29 assists versus 15 turnovers, won the battle on the boards 55-48 and shot 42.1% from three-point range — marking the third time in the last four games New Orleans has surpassed 40% or better. Considering the Pelicans had eclipsed that 40% figure just twice in their previous 11 games, maybe this is a sign the team’s shooting will be hot at the most important time of the season?
Let’s hope so!
- Jordan Crawford started slowly out of the gates in his first action with the Pelicans since two games into the season, but he finished with a bang, knocking down four three-pointers en route to 13 points in just 9 minutes. How great would it be if Instant Grits can replace Ian Clark’s instant offense off the bench over these key remaining games of the regular season?
- Rajon Rondo and E’Twaun Moore each scored six points, and they failed to knock down a single three-pointer between them. Chalk up their meek lines to taking a backseat to the Davis-Holiday-Mirotic Big Three.
- For a second consecutive game, Solomon Hill failed to register a made basket. He missed all six of his shot attempts against the Grizzlies and none of his three attempts dropped tonight. In addition, he’s now 0-8 from three-point range here in the month of April. Despite the negative stats, I’m here to tell you to cut him some slack. The contest in Phoenix marked his eighth game of the season, so as he, the coaching staff and many of the more level-headed followers of the team have said from the get-go, these struggles should be wholly expected. Let’s just hope he can fill some niche before the season runs out.
Up next, the Pelicans travel to Oakland to face the vaunted Golden State Warriors. Expect the hosts to come out hungry because Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are coming off an embarrassing home loss to the Indiana Pacers. This super important matchup tips off tomorrow at 7:30 pm.