A familiar, clean shaven face returned to the Smoothie King Center tonight and for the first time in months, the Pelicans finally resembled the team that got off to it’s 4-0 start.
Nikola Mirotic made his long awaited return to the court after a pesky ankle sprain sidelined him for New Orleans’ past 12 games. He wasn’t on the court long, but in a sparse 22 minutes of action, Mirotic made his presence felt by knocking down four threes en route to a 17-point effort off the bench.
Wednesday night’s win over the Cavaliers in New Orleans wasn’t nearly as comfortable as Saturday night’s 35-point thrashing, but the Pelicans were able to overcome some early lights out three-point shooting by Jordan Clarkson, Matthew Dellavedova and Cedi Osman and a 16-point deficit to push their winning streak to three games.
In news that will stun absolutely no one, Anthony Davis once again had an amazing night, this time of the 38-point, 13-rebound, seven-assist variety that featured going to the free throw line 16 times and knocking down 15 just for good measure.
You probably also will not be surprised to see Jrue Holiday had 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists; or that Julius Randle had 17 and eight and knocked down all nine of his free throw attempts; and honestly Elfrid Payton handing out nine assists and unlocking the Pelicans offensively is hardly considered groundbreaking news.
But what will stand out is Frank Jackson’s career night. Coming off a career-best 17 points against Memphis Monday night, Jackson set a new high by a basket to give him a new personal best of 19 points, fueled by knocking down four for four from three. Jackson was aggressive in looking for his shot and did plenty of damage from the free throw line too, making all seven of his attempts. To be able to score 19 points on only five shots is how the game of basketball is being played these days, and if Jackson is able to build off these efficient efforts against the Grizzlies and Cavaliers, expect him to emerge as something New Orleans hasn’t seen since drafting Anthony Davis: homegrown talent coming into his own and making a big positive difference.
The Cavaliers own the worst record in basketball so what initially gave the Pelicans so much issue tonight? They were able to get off to a fast start thanks in large part to an 8-8 effort from three in the opening frame. Thankfully, Cleveland was not able to sustain the hot shooting from distance, and only knocked down six of 22 three-pointers the rest of the contest. In contrast, New Orleans shot 3-12 from three in the opening quarter, but closed the game hitting nine of 17.
After months of waiting for the complete product, the Pelicans are finally starting to resemble the team New Orleans saw the first week or so of the season: a team that can absolutely blitz opponents with pace and scoring, scoring, scoring. The Pelicans still have a line of teams in front of them, but the Jazz, Kings and Timberwolves are each only half a game ahead of New Orleans; the Lakers, the current eight-seed, are two-and-a-half up and the Pelicans are still within shouting distance of teams like Portland, Houston and San Antonio.
The Pelicans were in need of Elfrid Payton to return to the lineup and run the point; that’s happened. Next they needed Niko Mirotic to come back and provide some much needed shooting from three; and now that’s happened. Get E’Twaun Moore back and suddenly the Pelicans may fully resemble the team that most of us feared might have been just an early schedule mirage.
And with a five-game road trip coming up, this development couldn’t come at a better time.