New Orleans Pelicans: Applying the Lesson of Consistency in 2017

The New Orleans Pelicans (14-21) ended 2016 in a huge way, winning four of their last five games to remain alive and well in the Western Conference playoff race in 2017.

In what seemed like an impossible task during the month of November and early portions of December, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry kept his team motivated and the players have really begun to play for each other — while playing with consistency in each game and finishing games in the critical moments.

As it turns out: the Pelicans could not have chosen a better time to rally together as a team.

The Pelicans’ schedule in January features tough match-ups against playoff-caliber opponents.

New Orleans visits LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight. The Cavaliers (25-7) enter tonight’s game ranked No. 1 in the Eastern Conference and tied for the second- best team in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs.

Dec 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) is defended by New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) during overtime of a game at the Smoothie King Center.The Pelicans defeated the Cavaliers 114-108 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

In what seems to be a tough task (which it will undoubtedly will be), the Pelicans hopefully can carry on their winning ways against the Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers will be limited tonight with their production. Cleveland will be without J.R. Smith, who will be likely be out for the next few months with a fractured wrist, according to ESPN.com.

Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving missed the Cavs’ contest last night against the Charlotte Hornets due to a right hamstring injury. He is out for tonight’ game against the Pelicans.

Considering these injuries, the Cavaliers still have the best player on the planet in King James. However, as we have seen before, every star player needs help. Without one player and another questionable, the Pelicans can use this to their advantage.

If New Orleans can limit the production of James and put him in uncomfortable situations; thus limiting his selection in high-productive shots and forcing other players to score on the team, the Pelicans could make another statement in their season with a win on the road against the defending NBA champs.

Dec 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) and New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) move up court during the second quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

However, that’s not it.

New Orleans must continue to stay the course, and get solid production and minutes from the bench. Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday must play at their best level, which should not be much of a problem with Smith and Irving out for tonight’s game.

Anthony Davis must produce on offense and defense. Defensively, he must remain active in the post and crash the boards on both sides of the ball. Cavaliers’ Tristan Thompson is a hawk when it comes to getting rebounds, averaging 10 per game.

Terrence Jones must continue to assist Davis with the rebounding for the Pelicans as well.

The keys to victory for the Pelicans tonight are playing smart, getting the productive play from the bench, Jones and Davis crashing the boards and getting Evans, Holiday and Buddy Hield to have solid performances.

If this happens, the Pelicans will earn their fifth straight win in six games.

Not only would the Pelicans notch another victory in the win column, it would give them an even bigger surge of confidence going into a tough stretch of games this month.

Dec 21, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) dunks against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Thunder defeated the Pelicans 121-110. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

After the game against the Cavs, the Pelicans will return home to play the Atlanta Hawks (18-16) on Thursday before going on a five-game road trip against teams that include the Boston Celtics (20-14), the New York Knicks (16-17), the Brooklyn Nets (8-24), the Chicago Bulls (16-18) and the Indiana Pacers (17-18).

Two of the five teams — Boston and Indiana — sit in the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference. New York sits one game behind Indiana for the eight spot. Chicago sits one game behind New York while Brooklyn sits in last place in the Eastern Conference.

Instead of a five-game home stand, the Pelicans will be tested with a five-game road series early this year to see if the end of 2016 has prepared them for what they will face in the coming weeks — as they continue to keep their playoff hopes “alive and well” in the Western Conference……..