So now the fun begins and the oxygen masks rev up for the New Orleans Pelicans.
Because their Feb. 7 game against the Indiana Pacers was postponed due to a leaky roof at the Smoothie Kings Center and rescheduled for Wednesday night, the Pelicans (40-30) face the rare challenge of playing three games in three nights, opening Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks (22-48).
After hosting the Pacers on Wednesday, the Pelicans will conclude their three-day fitness test with a home game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.
With 12 games left and the Western Conference playoffs on the line, the Pelicans, coming off a 108-89 victory on Sunday over the short-handed Boston Celtics, realize that every game down the stretch becomes more critical. That victory snapped a string of four losses in five games for New Orleans.
"I think it is good for us because it was a good bounce-back game," said forward Anthony Davis, who had 34 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Boston. "You know, it was a tough one last night (a 107-101 loss to Houston) and then we come in (against) the No. 1 defensive team and score on them and then hold them to what they had, under 100. So it was good for us to kind of bounce back."
The Pelicans held the Celtics to their lowest point total of the season and also limited Boston to a season-low 13 points in the fourth quarter. One of the highlights was the play of second-year forward Cheick Diallo, who continues to merit extra playing time by running the court and also blocking shots effectively.
The second-round pick out of Kansas in 2016 was a raw, athletic talent when the Pelicans drafted him, and his season-high 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting against Boston indicated he could have a promising future. Diallo even sparked the crowd with some fiery hand gestures after several layups. He added six rebounds.
Diallo is averaging 6.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game since Jan. 30 while shooting 58 percent from the floor.
"It's a lot different now, because at the beginning of the season, I was not playing, so it's kind of frustrating," Diallo said. "To me, I feel like I'm growing as a player right now, defensively and offensively."
"He did a great job," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. "When we were struggling a little bit, he gave us a big boost energy-wise. Just his running in our offense opened up everything. He did a great job of rim-running."
Davis has taken notice of the young forward who is trying to pattern his game after his All-Star "big brother."
"He's playing well," Davis said of Diallo. "He's coming in with a lot of energy. He plays hard. He plays well for us, so he just wants to come in and help the team any way possible, whether defensively or offensively."
The Pelicans have won two of three meetings with Dallas this season, both on the road, but losing 128-120 at home on Dec. 29 when the Mavericks were blistering from long range, making 22 of 39 3-point attempts (.564).
In three games this season against Dallas, Davis has averaged 28.7 points on .517 shooting, 10.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.0 blocks. Guard Jrue Holiday has averaged 19.7 points on .500 shooting and 6.0 assists.
The Mavericks lost 114-106 on Saturday at Brooklyn, their third loss in four games.
While 11 of the last 15 games against New Orleans have been decided by fewer than 10 points, Dallas will miss guard Dennis Smith Jr., who sprained his left ankle after scoring 21 points in 23 minutes. X-rays were negative, but he will not play against the Pelicans.
"We probably dodged a bullet," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said.
"I'm trusting their decision," Smith said. "I don't want to make anything worse. That's how I messed my knee up (in high school). So I'm trusting them."
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