Now that Stephen Curry is back to waving his magical right wrist and pointing three fingers to the rafters, the Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to dispatch the New Orleans Pelicans after winning the first two games of their seven-game Western Conference semifinal series in Oakland.
But the Pelicans, who have won 12 of their last 17 games at home, are taking a glass-half-full approach coming off a closer-than-expected 121-116 loss on Tuesday night as the teams meet Friday night in Game 3 at the Smoothie King Center.
There is some reason for the Pelicans' optimism of stealing a game. After being crushed 123-101 in the series opener -- a game in which forward Anthony Davis and guard Jrue Holiday combined for just 32 points -- New Orleans hung tough in Game 2 and trailed by only a point midway through the fourth quarter.
The Pelicans are buoyed by the curious stat line emerging from the Game 2 loss: Even though New Orleans outscored Golden State 66-38 in the paint, the Pelicans could not get to the free-throw line. In the first two games, Golden State has a 59-20 edge in free-throw attempts.
In Game 2, Davis and Holiday never attempted a free throw -- the first time that had happened since they began playing with each other five seasons ago.
"I just go out there and play," said Davis, who scored 25 points in Game 2, about his failure to get to the line. "It's on the refs to make calls. They said I didn't get fouled, so maybe I have to go in there a little stronger and force them to call them."
Veteran point guard Rajon Rondo expressed the frustration his teammates are feeling about the foul-shooting imbalance.
"Both of those guys (Davis and Holiday) shot the ball a combined 48 times," Rondo said. "I think we were attacking, but that's not an excuse. We got the shots we wanted. Our guys were aggressive, and things will turn, hopefully for Game 3."
Playing his first game in more than five weeks since suffering a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his left knee, Curry came off the bench in Game 2 and scored 28 points in just 27 minutes. Golden State coach Steve Kerr said Curry would definitely start Game 3.
"Oh yeah, yeah, yeah," Kerr said. "You don't keep a guy like that on the bench for long. His knee is fine. That's the good news. The bad news is that he hasn't played in (five) weeks. So any sort of minutes restriction was only based on his conditioning. There was no-holds-bar in terms of his knee."
The Pelicans are hoping they will be energized by a home crowd that helped them sweep through Games 3 and 4 of a first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers. New Orleans has posted an 8-2 record at home since March 18.
Coincidental to the Pelicans' improvement at home has been the switch they made in the last month -- going to the Smoothie King Center for game-day shoot-arounds instead of doing their preps at their training facility in Metairie.
"Practicing where you play, there is something to that," Holiday said. "Being able to get a feel for the arena, the depth (perception) with the bleachers and the stands compared to our practice facility."
Curry, a two-time NBA MVP, was a plus-27 in Game 2 while on the court for the Warriors, and no teammate was better than plus-7.
"He was Steph -- he didn't take long to warm up, that's for sure," Kerr said.
But Kerr said the Warriors are expecting a battle in Game 3.
"We played well enough to win (on Thursday night), but we're going to have to play better in New Orleans," Kerr said.
Copyright © 2018 TTWN Media Networks LLC Photo: Getty Images