New Orleans started the season from 6 to 22 and, at one point, lost 13 consecutive games in the franchise. But about a month ago, just as the losing streak reached a dozen bakers, the Pelicans made some schematic changes defensively and things took off.
The Pelicans have won 11 of their last 16 games and ended the NBA's longest winning streak twice in their last three games: the Memphis seven-game series on Wednesday and the Utah 10-game series on January 16. .
So, are the Pelicans playing their best basketball of the season?
"For sure", guard Lonzo Ball said. "I mean, it is much better than the 13 skids we had, so we are moving in the right direction."
Thanks to the end of the Western Conference, New Orleans is just 3.5 games from the eighth place the Grizzlies are currently in.
Part of the pelicans' resurgence occurred because the team simply became healthier. Derrick Favors returned from a month-long absence on December 13 and immediately improved the team's defense. When Favors plays at least 24 minutes this season, New Orleans is 9-5.
Favor's presence as a canvas on the offensive side also helped the pelicans, but according to coach Alvin Gentry, the biggest boost was a healthy ball.
Ball lost some time at the beginning of the season with adductor tension, and even though he only lost six games with the injury, it took him a while to regain his foot.
Since a performance of five steals against the Warriors on December 23, Ball has averaged 15.4 points, 7.5 assists, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game, while shooting 38.6 % in the range of 3 points.
"I think the pace of the game is great and Lonzo did a great job with that," said Gentry. "I think we are meeting the right people at the right time and I think our defense has been really solid."
The Pelicans got a big boost on Monday when Jrue Holiday returned to lineup after losing seven games with tension in his left triceps. Holiday came back and looked the best he has in the entire season, with a 36 point high, setting a new career mark with seven points.
His defense also helped the Pelicans decrease the Grizzlies' point guard Ja Morant, who was only 1 in 5 when Holiday was the main defender. Morant had three points in three quarters, but finished with 16 out of 5 out of 14 shots.
"I thought (Jrue) gave us a great start," said Gentry. "More than anything, his defense in Ja was great. Ja is having a hell of a year, so Jrue came back and played against him and arrested him like that … the boy is relentless, I will say that he always goes on coming to you. He will be a great player in this league for a long time. I thought Jrue had done an excellent job with him ".
Holiday, who was training with Williamson playing three against three and four against four, while injured, was eager to get back on the ground.
"You see how the team has been doing and how they are fighting and winning good teams and playing very well." Holiday said. "I just wanted to go back there with them. The performance I had was just juice and I think I just had a warm hand."
The constant for the pelicans this season was the game of Brandon Ingram, which averages 25.6 team points per game. In fact, Ingram is in the average of the career in rebounds (6.7), assists (4.4), 3 percentage points (39.9%) and percentage of free throws (85.8%).
Ingram had 49 career points against Jazz and became the team's number one option.
"He worked hard to improve his 3-point shots," said Gentry. "He did it with the free throw. He's there every day working. For me, I'm sure I'm a little biased, but I would be very disappointed if he didn't make the All." -The star team. "
Ingram said he is looking forward to entering the court with Williamson, who again watched carefully outside in a hooded sweatshirt and a sports coat. Ingram predicts that there won't be many seats when people take a look at the general first choice.
"It will be exhausted," said Ingram. "Every night. When they start to see Zion playing, he'll be exhausted."
The Pelicans' plan is to start Williamson against the Spurs on Wednesday (21:30 ET) on ESPN, while monitoring his minutes. Last week, Pelicans' executive vice president of basketball operations, David Griffin, said the team will not have a "hard time restriction" on Williamson, but will throw him in brief "explosions" to keep him up to date.
But Gentry knows that Wednesday will be slightly different from the NBA regular season average.
"First, it will be a circus and everyone knows it," said Gentry. "What we need to do is focus on the task at hand and play with a very good team from San Antonio … It will be good to get him out of there. I think the important thing for us is that we just need to get him there, to let all of that disappear and then we can start discovering rotations and how we’re going to play and what we’re going to do
"We have come back and seen a lot of pre-season stuff, so we will try to integrate it exactly with what we are doing."