The New Orleans Pelicans were 3 1/2 games out of a playoff spot, losers of four straight and without top reserve Ryan Anderson heading into last week’s game against the Sacramento Kings.
While they still trail in the postseason race, the Pelicans have cut their deficit in the Western Conference with three consecutive wins and possess a nearly complete roster after getting Anderson back from a lengthy absence in their most recent victory.
Before a challenging stretch of schedule, the healthier Pelicans look to top Sacramento again Friday night as the Kings try for their longest home win streak in two seasons.
New Orleans (40-34) began its run with a 102-88 victory over Sacramento last Friday and easily handled two more lackluster opponents, beating Minnesota and the Los Angeles Lakers by a combined 43 points.
The Pelicans’ 113-92 victory over the Lakers on Wednesday combined with Oklahoma City’s loss to Dallas put New Orleans within 1 1/2 games of the Thunder for eighth place in the West.
Anderson, averaging 14.7 points, scored 17 in 21-plus minutes in his return from an 18-game absence due to a sprained right knee.
"Getting Ryan back was huge," forward Anthony Davis said after his team snapped a three-game road skid. "He brings another dimension to our team. We really missed him."
Jrue Holiday (leg) was the only Pelicans player still out injured Wednesday and coach Monty Williams said Tuesday that the point guard could return "soon."
The Pelicans will need all the help they can get as they’ll face five of the West’s top six teams in their final eight games, so they certainly aren’t overlooking their matchup with the Kings (26-48).
"We’ve got a tough Sacramento team coming up, and we’ve got to focus on that game. We can’t look ahead," Davis said. "When you start jumping ahead of yourself, you start getting out of control and losing games."
The Pelicans have won two of three over the Kings this season after going 1-3 in the 2013-14 series. They earned their second win in three visits to Sacramento on Nov. 18, with Davis’ 28 points lifting them to a 106-100 victory.
Anderson chipped in 22 points, and the Sacramento native has totaled 42 while shooting 51.6 percent in his two games against the Kings this season.
Tyreke Evans had a team-best 25 points along with 10 assists last Friday. He’s averaged 21.3 points in seven career games against Sacramento, his best showing against a Western Conference opponent.
The Kings dropped the final three games of a four-game trip, but they’re looking for their first four-game home win streak since Dec. 19-30, 2012.
DeMarcus Cousins recorded his second career triple-double with 24 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists and tied a personal best with six blocks in a 115-111 loss to Houston on Wednesday. He had gotten Monday’s contest against Memphis off.
"I’ve never coached a guy that can put up so many things into a game," coach George Karl said.
Cousins matched a season high with 39 points and had 20 rebounds last Friday. He’s averaged 30.0 points and 15.8 rebounds in his last four games against the Pelicans.