Travel, opposition daunting on Pelicans road trip
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
Two time zones. Three U.S. states. A total of 5,582 miles. From a travel standpoint alone, the New Orleans Pelicans’ five-game, pre-Christmas road trip is a challenging one, perhaps the most arduous of the entire 2013-14 regular season. After factoring in the opposition – including four straight foes that currently sport winning records, despite competing in the brutal Western Conference – the 10-day excursion appears even more daunting.
New Orleans (11-10) will try to build on its recent momentum and two-game winning streak starting Sunday night, when the Pelicans visit the Denver Nuggets. Following the road trip opener in the Rocky Mountains, the Pelicans will face the Warriors, Clippers, Trail Blazers and Kings, all in a seven-day span.
The Pelicans are 8-4 over their last dozen games, after starting 3-6. After struggling on the road early in 2013-14, New Orleans went 3-0 on its most recent road trip Nov. 29-Dec. 2, but all three victories were against Eastern Conference clubs currently below .500. Just 4-8 against the West so far, the Pelicans will undoubtedly need to significantly improve in-conference to remain in the thick of playoff contention. The team’s next nine games are against the West, as well as 16 of the next 20.
“It’s going to be tested on the road,” Pelicans Coach Monty Williams said of his team’s mettle and maturity. “That’s the one thing we showed out East, that when we get in tight situations we can grind it out. Maybe we are seeing some growth, but we are going to have to have the carryover and the mentality we’ve had, and try to do it a bit better (than in recent home games).”
“They’re all important games,” point guard Jrue Holiday said of the trip. “Every game is important in itself, but we’re playing all Western Conference teams. Our goal is to win as many games as possible.”
With a combined record of 60-33, the Nuggets (13-9), Warriors (13-11), Clippers (15-9) and Trail Blazers (19-4) represent some of the toughest competition the West has to offer. The first two clubs in particular are within striking distance of the Pelicans in the standings, providing New Orleans with an opportunity to gain ground and post a head-to-head victory.
“It’s a tough (trip),” said Pelicans sixth man Tyreke Evans, who hopes to play Sunday at Denver after a left ankle sprain Friday vs. Memphis. “We’ve got some good teams coming up. We’re going to be in a different city every other day, so we’ve got to take care of our bodies and play hard every night. It’s a good test for us.”
A closer look at each stop on the Pelicans’ busy 10-day trek:
Sunday, Dec. 15, at Denver (7 p.m. Central tip-off)
Distance from New Orleans: 1,079 miles
Not long after the Saints departed on Saturday afternoon for their flight to St. Louis to face the Rams, the Pelicans headed to Denver for a two-hour-plus trip. The Nuggets are historically one of the NBA’s best home teams, though they’re coming off a surprising loss in the Pepsi Center to Utah on Friday. “Playing in Denver is always tough,” Evans said. “The altitude is tough. When I play in Denver, the first three or four minutes of the game, I feel like I’m going to pass out.”
Tuesday, Dec. 17, at Golden State (9:30 p.m.)
Distance from Denver: 938 miles (trip total 2,017 miles)
Another difficult venue, but for a different reason than Denver’s elevation. Warriors fans are respected leaguewide for making Oracle Arena one of the loudest in the league. Even when Golden State experienced some rough years – and there were plenty prior to its recent Stephen Curry-fueled success – the atmosphere in Oakland has always been raucous.
Wednesday, Dec. 18, at L.A. Clippers (9:30 p.m.)
Distance from Oakland: 372 miles (trip total 2,389 miles)
L.A. fans are notorious for their late arrivals to games and laidback approach, but the Clippers have become an excellent home team. The best NBA team in Los Angeles is 8-2 in the Staples Center this season, with its only losses coming against NBA-leading Indiana and Memphis, a fierce rival that eliminated the Clippers from the 2013 playoffs.
Saturday, Dec. 21, at Portland (9 p.m.)
Distance from Los Angeles: 827 miles (trip total 3,216 miles)
The Trail Blazers are the league’s biggest surprise team at 19-4. NBA analysts were a bit divided on whether Portland would even qualify for the playoffs, but the Blazers are currently No. 1 in the West. They only have two defeats at the Moda Center all season, including a recent loss at the buzzer to Dallas on a shot by Monta Ellis.
Monday, Dec. 23, at Sacramento (9 p.m.)
Distance from Portland: 484 miles (trip total 3,700 miles)
Distance to New Orleans: 1,882 miles (complete trip 5,582 miles)
The Pelicans head to California for the second time on the same road trip, capping the journey by facing the Kings (6-15). In a game scheduled to be televised nationwide by NBA TV, Evans will play against his former team for the first time.