Pelicans come back from break to face Heat
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NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Pelicans and the Miami Heat are in eighth place in their respective conferences coming off the NBA All-Star break, and when they meet Friday night at the Smoothie King Center, the Pelicans will try to recapture the feel-good emotions of a three-game winning streak just before the break.
Although New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry is not a believer in "momentum" -- especially coming off a nine-day break -- there is no question his team was learning to operate more efficiently since the loss of center DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending Achilles injury on Jan. 26.
The Pelicans (31-26) lost five of their first six games while adjusting to Cousins' absence but rallied to beat the Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers before the break, with Anthony Davis averaging 41.3 points on 58 percent shooting, 14.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in those victories.
It may or may not be a coincidence, but Davis' surge may be tied to a call he received from the rehabbing Cousins to be more aggressive in taking over games.
"Obviously, we're still in a dogfight for the playoffs, but we've put ourselves in a (better) position," Gentry said after the Pelicans' first post-break practice on Wednesday. "The last couple of years we've been trying to dig ourselves out of a hole because of the injury situation and the things that are going on.
"Obviously, losing DeMarcus is a huge loss, but my message to the team is we can still accomplish what we set out to do."
"We ended on a winning streak," Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday said. "That feels really good to come out of the break with that energy and motivation. I think there's a little juice there."
Davis, who played in his fifth All-Star game and wore the jersey number "0" in honor of the missing Cousins, has been dynamic in his last three games. He made 15 of 18 shots from the field against the Lakers.
"He might beg to differ, but it looked effortless," New Orleans point guard Rajon Rondo said. "It didn't look like he was forcing anything. All the shots he took were great shots."
The Pelicans are just a half-game ahead of the No. 9 Los Angeles Clippers (30-26) in the West. The Heat, who dropped two consecutive games before the break, are 1.5 games ahead of the ninth-place Pistons (28-29) in the East.
The Heat (30-28) picked up guard Dwyane Wade in a recent trade with Cleveland, but they are just 3-7 in their last 10 games. Kelly Olynyck missed the previous four games with a strained left shoulder and is listed as doubtful.
"He's progressing," Heat coach Erick Spoelstra said.
Guard Rodney McGruder has been out since October after breaking a tibia, but he is also inching his way back into shape. Spoelstra will continue to have Wade come off the bench to sub out Tyler Johnson because he wants Wade to add energy to the second unit.
The Heat players will wear a jersey patch in memory of the 17 shooting victims at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Updated February 22, 2018