The Pelicans followed up a stinging 111-86 December loss in Phoenix by stomping the Suns a few nights ago, 123-101. Zion Williamson was dominant in scoring 28 points on 12 of 14 shooting from the field, but the entire team played well on both ends of the court in posting their most complete victory of the season.
Just as bitter of a pill a blowout can sit on the taste buds, so too should contests that are literally handed to opponents.
With 2:22 remaining, the Pelicans led Indiana by 10 points last month and were primed to improve their record to 5-2. Instead, they suffered a meltdown of epic proportions, coughing up a 6-point lead with less than 30 seconds in the game to fall in overtime.
Looking back, that defeat marked the start of a disappointing 1-8 stretch for New Orleans. While the Pelicans can’t get all those losses back in a single night, they can post a victory against a team that kicked off their downward spiral.
The Pacers haven’t played particularly well of late. They’ve lost six of their last 10 games, including a 130-110 loss to the Bucks this past Wednesday. Indiana was staring at a 34-point deficit to Milwaukee when the fourth quarter began!
This isn’t to say that the Pacers will just serve as some welcome mat. Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis are among two of the toughest competitors in the league. And when they’re firing on all cylinders, Myles Turner can single-handedly defend the paint and Justin Holiday, Jeremy Lamb and their reserves can supply the necessary firepower in supporting roles.
To give themselves the best chance to come up with a big road victory against the Pacers, the Pelicans know what they must do.
“We need to keep this game in our minds and understand all the things that we did to win,” Stan Van Gundy said following Wednesday’s win over the Suns. “You have to know why you win and why you lose. Tonight was the blueprint for us.”
What is that blueprint? Defending, rebounding, and taking care of the ball, for starters. The Pelicans were consistent with their defensive effort in holding the Suns to 101 points. They also grabbed 53% of all the available balls off the glass and committed a mere seven turnovers. Spirited but smart basketball is the ticket.
In addition to sticking to the fundamentals, New Orleans posted their most efficient offensive night of the season (130.9 offensive rating) against the Suns because they executed incredibly well, moving the ball from side to side and allowing the ball to touch the paint before hoisting the majority of shot attempts. Van Gundy has noted that the Pelicans are at their best when the ball has energy and doesn’t stagnate in an individual’s hands in the form of too many isolation plays.
So, if Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson can replicate Wednesday’s performance of combining for 12 assists, New Orleans will significantly improve their odds of leaving Indiana with their fourth win in the last six games on the schedule.
The Pelicans started the season well, suffered a huge lull, but could be on the verge of another positive run if they can follow their game plan well against the Pacers.
After starting the season 4-2, an almost unfathomable loss to Indiana killed that momentum. If they beat the Pacers Friday evening, they’ll find themselves riding a new 4-2 streak and expectations could be a thing again.
Who: New Orleans Pelicans (8-12) at Indiana Pacers (12-10)
When: February 5, 6:00 p.m. Central
Where to watch: FSNO
Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM