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Trending in right direction, Pelicans must find way to beat flailing Spurs team

New Orleans is hot, San Antonio is definitely not

New Orleans Pelicans v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans will face a San Antonio Spurs squad tonight that’s in a noticeable tailspin after beginning the season with five wins in their first seven games. Since that good stretch, the Spurs have managed to notch just a lone victory in their last 11 contests.

The mindset, thus, should be very similar to New Orleans’ approach against Golden State, a team without four of their five starters: Ignore the level of competition and simply put forth your best foot forward.

“We spoke about it in the locker room that we just need to play to our standards,” Willie Green said after Monday’s 128-83 victory over the Warriors. “We want to respect our opponents, but we just want to play our style.”

New Orleans’ players fulfilled their head coach’s wishes to a tee, jumping out to a double-digit lead early and then never letting off the gas.

The Pelicans should strive to duplicate that approach in San Antonio.

Following the trade of Dejounte Murray to Atlanta during the summer, the Spurs were expected to reside in or near the bottom of the Western Conference. That’s precisely where they sit, with only two teams below them in the standings.

The Lakers are one of those two teams, but in case you missed it, Los Angeles dismantled San Antonio last Sunday, winning by a 123-92 final score.

In fact, the Spurs have lost by an average of 23 points over their previous five games.

So as you can see, to say that they are in a tailspin is quite appropriate.

During this span, Devin Vassell (18.3 points, 2.8 3s) and Jacob Poeltl (16.8 points, 9.8 rebound) have put up numbers, but the rest of their group has largely struggled, including Keldon Johnson (14.5 points, 31.3 FG%).

Not surprisingly, San Antonio easily grades as the worst team in the league the last five games, posting a ghastly -23.1 net rating. Conversely, New Orleans ranks as the best, leading the league with a +15.7 net rating.

That mark is higher than even Sacramento and Indiana, two teams that haven’t suffered any losses in the last five games.

While they’ve won four of their last five, the Pelicans are 10-7 overall. The record looks good but not great. However, there’s a lot more to like than dislike underneath the hood because New Orleans ranks in the top 10 in a number of different categories, including several all-encompassing stats.

There are four teams who currently boast a top-10 offense and defense. New Orleans is one of those teams, with Cleveland, Dallas and Phoenix also sitting at the table.

“I think we’re excited about where we are, but we also know that we can continue to grow,” Green said after yesterday’s practice. “We’ve got another couple of games coming up on the road that are important for us.

“We just want to continue to keep our heads down, work and build — and that’s what we’re doing. You see some of the stats, I think that’s what it’s leaning towards, us being a really good team.”

Had New Orleans found a way to flip an overtime defeat or two in their favor, most would probably look at this team in a much different light. The players, though, have taken the results in stride, realizing that the early tough-luck losses build character and should eventually pay dividends.

“We’re 10-7, but we should be 12-5 at the very least,” CJ McCollum said yesterday. “I would like to be 13-4, but I think this is a good step in the right direction. Going through tough losses teaches you how to win. You learn how to value possessions more, learn how to communicate better. I think for us, down the stretch of the season, those losses will be helpful for us as we get in those situations down the road.”

The Pelicans should beat the Spurs on Wednesday. They’re clearly the stronger team, especially of late. However, should New Orleans find themselves in a dogfight against a suddenly inspired San Antonio side, let’s hope lessons were learned from those OT losses so that a path to victory can be found.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (10-7) at San Antonio Spurs (6-12)

When: November 23, 2022, 7:00 p.m. CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.