Pelicans shootaround update presented by HUB International: New Orleans ‘still in the mix’ but needs wins to improve position

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

LOS ANGELES – New Orleans is 5-5 in its last 10 games, but in a surprising development given how competitive the Western Conference has become, the Pelicans have actually gained ground on eighth place, due to the struggles of the LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers, who are 3-7 during the same span. On Monday, New Orleans (20-23) will have a chance to move within just two games of the Lakers (23-21) when it pays a visit to Staples Center’s other NBA tenant, the 24-18 LA Clippers (meanwhile, 23-21 Utah hosts Detroit tonight and can inch ahead of the Lakers into the eighth spot). Despite a 5-17 road mark and not sporting a winning record overall since the weekend after Thanksgiving, New Orleans is still within legitimate striking distance of playoff contention.

“Even though we haven’t played the type of basketball we want to play, or are where we want to be, we’re still in the mix,” Pelicans five-time All-Star Anthony Davis said after Monday’s shootaround. “That’s the good thing. Having injuries and not having the record we want to have, we’re still in the mix. It’s a good sign. We just have to turn it around quickly.”

That urgency is heightened by New Orleans’ upcoming schedule, which includes four more road games over the next eight days, all against competitive West teams. Furthermore, of the next 11 games, only two feature opponents currently under .500 (Memphis on Jan. 21, Detroit on Jan. 23). Between now and Feb. 2, the Pelicans have eight games (out of 10 total contests) against top-seven West squads.

Other notes from shootaround in Southern California:

Asked if the Pelicans still don’t know what kind of team they can be due to missing key players such as Elfrid Payton and Nikola Mirotic for lengthy stretches in 2018-19, Davis responded, “We know who we can be. We just have to guard. When we guard, we know the team we can be. We just have to come out and do it every night. Last couple games, we’ve been good defensively. We’ve been playing long enough – no matter who’s playing – to know the identity of our team.” …

Davis on the impact of injuries to New Orleans: “They kind of hurt us, but they’ve hit everybody. No team has everybody playing, so we can’t use that as an excuse.” …

Prior to playing his third game since he returned from an ankle injury, Mirotic noted that in addition to three-point shooting and rebounding, he wants to bring an intangible he believes is important to the success of the Pelicans: Enjoying playing basketball.

“The biggest thing for me, when I get on the court, I want to bring some good energy to the team and do those little things that my team is going to need, and have fun,” he said. “I think right now we need to have a little bit more fun. We need to see guys smiling. Lately we don’t see guys smiling on the court – I don’t know why, but when we have fun and we play for each other, we win the game. That’s what we need to get back to doing those kinds of things.” …

Particularly in the first quarter of Saturday’s loss to Minnesota, turnovers were costly for the Pelicans, when they had seven and were unable to build a cushion against the Timberwolves. “We just have to try not to make the home-run plays,” Davis said when asked about reducing turnovers. “Play simple basketball.” …

Mirotic has logged 22 and 27 minutes in his games back from injury, but is anticipating not being limited playing time-wise against the Clippers.

“This game tonight, I’m not going to have any restrictions,” he said. “We’ll see how the game goes, but I feel ready to go full (minutes).” …

Davis on Mirotic’s progress after being sidelined 11 games, nearly a month hiatus: “ He missed a lot of games, so no matter what kind of rehab you do, you can’t simulate game situations or game speed, stuff like that. It’s going to take him a couple games to get back and get his feel for the game, get his legs back under him. We’re asking a lot of him, but he’s more than capable of handling it.”

“The first game was good, making a few threes and the team was playing well with me in the second half,” Mirotic said of going 4/7 from beyond the arc vs. Cleveland. “(Saturday in Minnesota) was a really tight game. I missed those first few shots, but at the end, I started to play a lot better. Offensively, one game you might shoot better than another, but it’s part of the game.”