The New Orleans Pelicans tout a deep lineup headed by one of the league’s top players. And still, they cannot escape mediocrity.
Following yet another heartbreaking loss, Anthony Davis and the Pelicans head home to face James Harden and the Houston Rockets on Friday night in a battle of two of the NBA’s brightest stars.
The Pelicans (16-16), who have remained within two games of .500 throughout this season, allowed a last-second tip-in by Tim Duncan and fell 95-93 at San Antonio in overtime Wednesday. Davis scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Pelicans’ fourth loss in seven games.
"I just feel so bad for our guys," coach Monty Williams said. "To have a game in your hands and then to lose it in regulation like that. Then to fight like heck in overtime and not be able to pull it out, I just feel bad for the team. I have no complaints about anything. The edge was there, we competed."
Four other players scored in double figures to support Davis, including Jimmer Fredette, who tallied 14 points in a season-high 24-plus minutes off the bench.
However, as the trend has gone for New Orleans this season, the balanced scoring did not result in a victory.
"I think we have been in these situations before," Williams said. "Our guys’ natural instinct is to feel down and feel sick to your stomach, but that’s the NBA."
The return to New Orleans could help the Pelicans, as each of their previous three losses came on the road. New Orleans is 10-4 this season at home, where they’ve averaged a point differential of plus-5.5, compared with a minus-4.7 on the road.
Houston (22-9) had trudged through a similarly difficult stretch of four losses in seven games – a run that began with a loss to New Orleans – but ended 2014 on a high note with a 102-83 win over Charlotte on Wednesday.
Harden reached the 30-point mark for the second straight game, scoring 36 on 12-of-19 shooting, including 8 of 11 from 3-point range while adding seven rebounds and six assists.
"James is just a hell of a basketball player," coach Kevin McHale said. "I told him earlier in the year: `The best news that we had was that we were winning games and he wasn’t shooting particularly well.’"
Harden has shot 47.7 percent from the field in his last 20 games, including a 40.6 percent clip from behind the arc, after carrying a 37.2 percent field goal percentage through Nov. 17.
Friday’s matchup pits Harden, the league’s leading scorer (27.7), against the league’s third-leading scorer in Davis, who has averaged 10.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks in addition to his 24.3 points per game.
Davis was outstanding in New Orleans’ 99-90 win at Houston on Dec. 18, scoring 30 points to go along with 14 rebounds and five blocks. The Pelicans, meanwhile, held Harden to 21 points on 8-of-23 shooting.
Dwight Howard scored 17 in that matchup and enters Friday with just 12.0 points and 6.5 rebounds in his last two games. His 11.6 rebounding average this season is the lowest since his rookie season in 2004-05.