Pelicans shootaround update presented by HUB International: 7-3 mark in January spurred by improvement in late-game execution

by Jim Eichenhofer

CHARLOTTE – If experience is the best teacher, the New Orleans Pelicans seem to be benefiting greatly from the extensive number of close games they’ve played in all season, getting tested often in crunch time. Those late-game lessons have paid off in the form of three consecutive overtime victories, all since Jan. 14, part of a season-best 5-1 stretch overall.

“We’ve been in the situation a lot this year,” said Pelicans reserve guard Ian Clark after Wednesday’s shootaround at Spectrum Center. “We’ve kind of gotten some experience from it, and learning from our mistakes in how to close the close games. We’re still having a little bit of a problem of letting up in the third quarter, where we lose the lead we gained in the first half, but we know teams are going to make runs. We’re figuring out how to close games.”

New Orleans, which faces Charlotte for the first time in 2017-18 this evening, has not won a game by more than 10 points since a Dec. 27 home victory over Brooklyn. In January, the Pelicans have gone 7-3, while consistently needing to come through in the fourth quarter or beyond of tight games. As a result, New Orleans (25-21) has moved into sixth place in the Western Conference, after spending a lengthy period of time in eighth.

“Execution,” forward Dante Cunningham said of a big key to New Orleans’ recent run of success. “When it comes down to it, we’re executing at the end of the game. At the beginning of the year, we kind of had slippage in that area (and there were) a lot of close games we should’ve had. Coach (Alvin Gentry) is putting us in the right position and we’re getting it done. We’re communicating a lot more in terms of shootarounds. We’re on the same page before we even get in the game. We kind of already know what’s going to happen and how to (react).” …

Other notes from shootaround:

Charlotte (19-26) has struggled for much of this season, but the Hornets are 6-3 in January and are on the fringe of playoff contention. This appears to be a make-or-break stretch for Charlotte, which is 2-1 on a five-game homestand that concludes Friday vs. Atlanta. …

Cunningham on facing Charlotte: “The biggest thing is we have to keep them out of the paint, and we have to guard the three-point line. They have a lot of three-point shooters.” …

Clark on what New Orleans’ defensive focus will be: “Just being locked in. (Charlotte is) a different kind of team, especially on the offensive end. Obviously they have a traditional big inside (Dwight Howard). Being able to make sure we have efficient help, but also don’t leave guys open to get loose and make shots. We have to lock in on the defensive game plan and come out and execute.”