The New Orleans Pelicans have not strayed too far from mediocrity this season, but heading into a long road trip, they’ll hope to finally distance themselves from .500 and make a push in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
That quest begins Monday night when New Orleans takes on the struggling Boston Celtics.
All five games of the road swing come against Eastern teams, including three of the conference’s four worst (Boston, Philadelphia, New York). Coach Monty Williams hopes the upcoming light schedule can spark a hot spell for the Pelicans (18-18), who have stayed within two games of .500 this entire season.
New Orleans, though, is 0-6 on the road against the inferior East
"Our guys are looking forward to this trip, not only so that we can separate ourselves from .500, but also it’s good to get away and play some good teams on the road," Williams said. "If we have to make adjustments, we will."
New Orleans picked up a quality win before hitting the road, downing Memphis 106-95 on Friday. Jrue Holiday led the way with 23 points, eight assists and two steals in his fifth game without a turnover this season. The Pelicans are 6-1 when committing 10 or fewer turnovers, but are just 4-8 in contests with 14 or more giveaways.
Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis all scored at least 20. Evans had 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in his first game after volunteering to go to the bench to help that unit’s cohesion.
"I just like the ball in my hands," said Evans, who has averaged 19.7 over his past seven games. "I create and I can find guys, get to the basket and I think I’m most dangerous that way. So when it’s that time in the game, I just like to go get the ball and be aggressive."
Evans and the Pelicans could see a familiar face on Monday after New Orleans reportedly traded Austin Rivers to Boston (12-23) as part of a three-team deal that saw the Celtics ship leading scorer Jeff Green to Memphis. The trade is expected to be announced Monday morning.
The Pelicans will receive Quincy Pondexter and a second-round pick in the deal, according to reports, and will also send Russ Smith to the Grizzlies.
Boston, which will also get Tayshaun Prince and a future first-rounder from Memphis, has lost both games since pulling Green from the rotation with the trade in the works. A night after falling 107-103 at Indiana in overtime, the Celtics were outscored 90-70 over the final three quarters Saturday in a 109-96 loss at Toronto.
Avery Bradley shouldered a great deal of the scoring load with Green gone, scoring 40 points over Boston’s two losses. Bradley has topped the 20-point mark three times in six games after putting up 20 just twice in his first 28 contests.
The Pelicans have won five straight in this series, pulling out a 121-120 home win in overtime March 16 behind perhaps the best game of Davis’ career. He had 40 points and a career-high 21 rebounds as New Orleans matched a franchise record with 70 points in the paint.