The New Orleans Pelicans have learned to fly from the nest.
After years of struggling away from the Smoothie King Center, the Pelicans are en route to one of the best road seasons in franchise history.
New Orleans notched its 20th road win of the season Tuesday, beating the Clippers 121-116 — the most wins away from the home since the 2008-09 season. The Pelicans also clinched a winning record during a four-game road trip through the Western Conference.
“Anytime you can win on the road in this league, it’s a great win,” coach Alvin Gentry said Tuesday. “To just be able to come in here and get a win is great for our guys.”
The Pelicans, who visited Sacramento late Wednesday night, now settle back into their familiar surroundings, playing eight of their next nine games in the Smoothie King Center, starting at 7 p.m. Friday against the Washington Wizards.
The question is whether the Pelicans can take what’s worked on the road and use it inside their own building. Only three of their past 10 victories came on their home floor, and few have looked similar.
It’s a testament to their ability to overcome adversity, even in a hostile environment.
“It just shows we are able to keep our composure,” Emeka Okafor said Tuesday. “We’ve come back from big deficits and some nights we’ve given up some big leads. But in this stretch, it’s all somehow come out in a win and that’s what is really important.”
The Pelicans have squandered multiple 15-point leads and clawed back from several equally sized deficits, unfazed by the scoreboard — particularly in the final minutes.
It’s how they’ve managed to nearly tally as many road wins this season, in mid-March, than they did in the past two seasons combined (a 22-60 road record).
“There are ups and downs. There have been plenty of times this season where we have been up like that or we were on the other end of that and we came back and fought back to either win or lose,” guard Jrue Holiday said Tuesday. “But it is part of the game. Down the stretch, (the Clippers) played really well and gave themselves the chance to win.”
And as the Western Conference playoff picture comes into focus, it’s clear the Pelicans need to pile up wins, regardless of the venue. Two consecutive victories or defeats could be the difference between playing with home court advantage in the first round, or watching the playoffs from home.
Anthony Davis and Holiday both admitted after Tuesday’s win that they’re unabashedly checking their phones before and after games, looking to see if the other six teams in the Western Conference logjam have cleared any space for them.
It puts an added emphasis on each result.
“I think that every game that you play is going to be significant,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “You don’t even have to play. Last week we didn’t play and we went from seventh to fifth and then back to seventh, without playing a game. I think it is just going to be that way for the remaining 20 games, 18 games, whatever most of the teams have left.
“I just think that it is going to be that way in the West because when there is very little separation from fourth place and really third place, from third place to 10th place. There is just not a whole lot of separation, so I think that is what you are going to see for the rest of the year."