The Washington Wizards played well defensively while soaring into first place last month, but their struggles on that end have led to their fall from the top during their road swing.
The Wizards hope to end it on a positive note Monday night with their seventh straight win over the inconsistent New Orleans Pelicans, who try to move two games above .500 for the first time in more than six weeks.
Since moving into a tie with surging Atlanta atop the Southeast Division with a win at Houston to open the trip Dec. 29, Washington (22-11) has stumbled at Dallas, Oklahoma City and San Antonio during its worst skid of the season.
The Wizards gave up an average of 95.9 points and a 43.7 field-goal percentage over a 13-3 stretch before surrendering 108.0 per game on 53.5 percent shooting during their losing streak. They allowed a Spurs team without starters Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard to shoot 55.1 percent – a season worst defensively – in Saturday’s 101-92 defeat.
”In this stretch, we’ve lost a couple of things from a defensive standpoint that we have to get back in terms of helping one another," coach Randy Wittman said.
Wittman’s club looks to tighten things up while extending its longest winning streak in this series. The Pelicans have scored 110.0 per game over their last 11 at home, but were held to a season low in an 83-80 loss at Washington on Nov. 29.
New Orleans seeks a season-high fourth consecutive home win after shooting 53.0 percent – including 7 for 15 from 3-point range – in a 111-83 rout of Houston on Friday.
Ryan Anderson had 22 points, while Tyreke Evans added 21. Evans, averaging 22.6 points over his last nine home games, is questionable for this game due to an illness. Anderson has scored 21.7 per game while hitting 25 of 53 from beyond the arc in his past seven.
However, they scored a combined 15 while missing 20 of 26 shots in the November loss to the Wizards. Anthony Davis had 30 points and 13 rebounds in that contest, but the star matched a season low Friday with seven points on 2-of-7 shooting.
Although their last five wins have come against Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Phoenix and Houston (twice), the Pelicans have followed each of their previous four victories with defeats. They’re looking to move two games over .500 for the first time since a 7-5 record on Nov. 22.
”To be able to play against a playoff team that’s going to contend for a championship that way after what happened to us the other night says a ton about character and resiliency,” coach Monty Williams said after his team bounced back from an overtime loss at San Antonio.
New Orleans (17-16) could get a lift with Eric Gordon set to return after missing 21 games with a shoulder injury. The shooting guard, who averaged 9.5 points through the first 12 games, said he expects to start and is "ready to go" after Monday morning’s shootaround.
Marcin Gortat had a season-high 24 points and 13 rebounds in the first matchup to help Washington hold a 44-28 edge on points in the paint without Nene. The Wizards, though, have been outscored 194-140 inside on their current trip.
They’d also like to get more production from John Wall, who has scored 13.0 per game over his last five – 4.2 points below his season average. The star point guard also has totaled 21 on 9-of-23 shooting in his past two games versus New Orleans.
Washington has averaged 93.7 points during its losing streak after scoring 102.4 per game in its previous 16.