Morning Shootaround

New Orleans Pelicans sensing 'special' season after win over Cleveland Cavaliers staff reports

* Recap: Pelicans 123, Cavaliers 101

Seeing is believing where the New Orleans Pelicans are concerned. A big win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, with both DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis working the reigning three-time Eastern Conference champs over, was enough for Davis to declare this season’s version of the Pelicans a “special team.”

Sure, a 3-3 record six games into the season doesn’t scream “special” to most people. But as William Guillory of the Times Picayune points out, Davis and the Pelicans are forecasting big things to come for this crew in what is a critical season for coach Alvin Gentry and the entire basketball operation:

Slow starts have doomed the New Orleans Pelicans in Alvin Gentry’s first two years as head coach, and at one point it looked like they were destined to repeat that mistake in 2017-18.

The Pelicans (3-3) began the season losing three of their first four games and hopes of turning into a winning team were growing harder to envision.

But Saturday’s 123-101 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers gave New Orleans its third victory in four games and brought its record back to exactly .500 for the first time since February 2015.

The Pelicans’ recent play has granted the squad a boost in confidence and belief that things are headed in the right direction.

“We’re going to be a special team, we feel it,” said Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, before correcting himself. “We don’t feel it, we know it.

“We’ve just got to keep playing the way we have–playing hard on defense and sharing the basketball. Any time we step onto the floor, we feel like we can beat anybody in this league.”

New Orleans had a combined 3-21 mark in the first 12 games of the last two seasons, and avoiding those types of struggles were a major priority to start the year.

Gentry has preached a consistent message about keeping a steady approach through the ups and downs of the season because he’s aware of how tough it’ill be to earn a playoff spot in the rugged Western Conference.

“(Getting off to a good start) was really important to us…because in the West it’s so hard when you’re trying to make up seven, eight games,” he said. “There’s so many good teams. Not just the teams that are at the top, when you look at (teams like Memphis and Denver), you have to compete against those teams to even try to make the playoffs.

When you’re trying to make up seven, eight games it becomes really, really tough.”

Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins has taken his game to another level during the recent hot streak and he’s become a force on both sides of the court.

He followed his 41-point, 23-rebound performance against Sacramento on Thursday with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists on Saturday–the seventh triple-double of his career and his first as a member of the Pelicans.

He’s averaging 32.3 points, 13.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists this season and his growing comfort with Davis has turned New Orleans into one of the NBA’s toughest offenses to defend.

The Pelicans are positing a whopping 117.5 offensive rating in the 112 minutes the duo has shared the court and Cousins says he thinks the team is starting to hit its stride.

“We feel like we can battle with the best of them,” he said. “We are starting to understand what it takes to win games. Still learning how to play with one another, but the ball movement has been good lately. Defensively, we’ve been good…We are in a good rhythm right now.”

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