The New Orleans Pelicans can still make a charge for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot, but they’ve done themselves no favors with a costly losing streak.
The visiting Sacramento Kings have trended in exactly the opposite direction, and could continue the Pelicans’ slide by matching a season-best winning streak at five Friday night.
New Orleans (37-34) has lost four straight and sits 3 1/2 games back of eighth seed Oklahoma City with 11 to play. Anthony Davis returned after missing the first two games of the Pelicans’ losing streak, but has been unable to turn the tide despite solid production.
Davis tallied 26 points and 12 rebounds in a 107-100 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, then had 24 and 14 Wednesday in Houston as New Orleans blew an early 17-point lead and fell 95-93.
Davis’ free-throw woes didn’t help against the Rockets as he went 6 of 14.
"He felt like he let the guys down. I explained to him, ‘It doesn’t come down to that,’" coach Monty Williams said. "The leaders, he and I, we take more blame than anybody. That’s just the way it is. Fair or unfair, that’s his new normal. For him to be great, that’s got to be his life."
Instead, Williams sees his team’s consistency as the primary issue. Eric Gordon managed only six points Wednesday after scoring 23 on Sunday, and Tyreke Evans committed a game-high six turnovers against the Rockets.
"We have to be a better executing team," Williams said. "I explained to the guys that this time of year you have to be a better executing team. You’re not going to fool many teams. Everybody knows your sets, they’re calling it out."
Sacramento’s suddenly improved defense could cause additional problems for the Pelicans. The Kings (26-45) have surrendered fewer than 100 points in three of their last four games – a feat they accomplished only four times in the previous 26 – while holding opponents to a 43.1 shooting percentage.
DeMarcus Cousins had 24 points and seven Kings scored in double figures as Sacramento stretched its winning streak to four by beating Phoenix 108-99 on Wednesday. The Kings hadn’t even won back-to-back games since November prior to this stretch.
”We can build confidence, which definitely is something this team needs,” Cousins said. ”We took a lot of hits through the season. This is going to be a positive point for us. It’s like training camp for us, except we started early.”
The Kings’ run has put them in position to finish with their best record in seven years. They need just three victories to reach 29 for the season, something they haven’t done since winning 38 in 2007-08.
The Pelicans and Kings, who meet again next Friday in Sacramento, have split their first two meetings. Davis scored 28 in his team’s 106-100 road victory on Nov. 18, but was held to 14 points a week later as the Kings won 99-89 in New Orleans.