With their eighth-straight win coming on the road in Dallas on Sunday night, the Pelicans, at least as I write this, hold the fourth place spot in the Western Conference standings. That’s something we weren’t even sure we’d see when they still had a healthy DeMarcus Cousins.
Anthony Davis, without a doubt, is the biggest driving force behind the win streak. During the last eight wins, he’s averaging 37.3 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. That’s 10 points above his season average, a big reason why he earned Western Conference Player of the Month. But it’s far from the only positive factor. Here are three more that should be drawing a little more attention.
1. Jrue Holiday’s alpha dog mentality
It’s not just the spike in points per game, up to 25.9 per outing during the win streak, but when he’s scoring as well. Holiday’s often been a catalyst in the fourth quarter and never afraid to go after his shot. It’s resulted in game-winners or clutch buckets to extend games. One of the biggest knocks on Holiday and the Pelicans’ use of him was how they could make him more of an aggressor. It appears they’ve figured it out now, and it came at the perfect time.
2. The Nikola Mirotic Effect
We knew the Pelicans were getting a sharp shooter and forward who could stretch the floor. But in their trade for Mirotic from the Bulls, they also received a solid rebounder and defender. It’s the type of defense that stats don’t always pick up on. He displayed his physical side going up against the likes of Blake Griffin in Detroit near the beginning of the win streak. And throughout, he’s showed the ability to defend well against pick and rolls and hasn’t been too exposed in match-ups against quicker players. The fact that he’s fit in so quickly also played a factor in not taking too far of a step backward after Cousins went down.
3. Winning the second and third quarters
How many times have we seen the Pelicans start fast but tail off in the middle quarters? It was a problem, even with Cousins, that they’ve seemingly fixed recently. For the season, they’re averaging 56 points per game in the second and third quarters, but on this eight-game win streak, it’s swelled to 63.1 points per game. When you factor in the fourth quarter numbers as well, they’re nearly 10 points better scoring outside of the first quarter. It may not sound like a whole lot, but considering that 15 of their 26 losses were by 10 points or less, it makes a difference.
That said, we’re all aware that the competition over this win streak hasn’t exactly been the NBA’s finest. But the fashion in which they’re winning, by erasing second-half deficits and battling through overtime, can’t be overlooked.
But still, the Pelicans aren’t considered safely locked into the fourth seed, or even the playoffs, for that matter, with teams three through 10 all separated by just four games total. Their next three weeks will tell us a lot about their endurance. They won’t have more than a day off between games in their next 12 match-ups, and that includes their back-to-back-to-back stretch against the Mavericks, Pacers and Lakers on March 20, 21 and 22. But should they be able to navigate those rocky waters with a plus record, it’s hard not to see them as a team bound for the postseason.
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