Alvin Gentry’s sick of the “bounce-back” game.
The New Orleans Pelicans’ coach has fielded a fair share of questions this season. Some concerning star forward Anthony Davis’ health, others about the potency and potential of the Davis-DeMarcus Cousins experiment and plenty about the status of the Pelicans through 41 suspenseful games of a season starved for progress and results.
The Pelicans’ coach since 2015 was asked before Friday’s 119-113 win against the Portland Trail Blazers about the "bounce-back" opportunity Friday’s game posed following a three-point defeat to the lowly, 27-loss Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.
Once again, Friday provided the Pelicans with a chance to clear the .500 bubble.
Consider that bubble cleared (for now).
In this win, for the first time since the Pelicans (21-20) defeated Denver and Portland in early December, a substantial Western Conference victory was earned.
“I’m tired of hearing that one,” Gentry said. “You know, I really am. We can’t be bouncing back all the time. We’ve got to move forward and put together a string of wins. The bounce-back games have kept us at .500.
“In order for us to have success, we’ve got to be able to move past the bounce-back games and be in a situation where we’re trying to string together a bunch of wins so we can try to get some separation as far as the playoffs are concerned.”
Against another playoff-bound club, Portland’s big week came to a screeching halt behind a monstrous 36 points from Davis — who returned from a one-game absence with a sprained right ankle — an efficient 25 points via 8-of-11 shooting from Jrue Holiday and 24 more by Cousins.
"Saw opportunities and scored, really," Holiday said.
"This is a good win for us," Davis added.
Sitting in fifth in the cluttered West, Portland (22-20) rocked the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder for consecutive wins on Sunday and Tuesday before traveling to Houston for a nine-point loss to the West’s surging goliath, the Rockets, on Wednesday.
The Pelicans, who are 4-4 since Christmas Day with losses to the Mavericks, Knicks, Timberwolves and Grizzlies, have caused Portland many headaches since the season began.
The Trail Blazers ranked dead last in the NBA in team assists per game with 18.8 prior to Friday and are now 1-2 against New Orleans, falling in consecutive games since New Orleans’ 103-93 loss at Portland on Oct. 24, the Pelicans’ fourth game of the regular season.
In their third fight this season, and last until late March when it’s likely to matter more, New Orleans knew what to expect from the guard-reliant Blazers and, by far, held a size advantage over Portland’s swift isolation offense.
“For us, it’s individual defense,” Gentry said before Portland tossed 24 assists. “They’re not a high assist team, as a matter of fact, I think they might be 30th in the NBA in assists. So that means that they’re doing a lot of things — just individual, isolation plays.”
Like the rest of the Trail Blazers, Portland’s talented backcourt tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum was fairly cold. Each half of the dazzling duo missed more shots than they made.
Lillard scored 23, McCollum added 23 more and all five of Portland's starters posted more than 17 points. Portland shot a miserable 12-of-42 from beyond the 3-point line and the Pelicans’ isolation defense held shape against a barrage of misfires.
"I thought we did a really good job," Gentry said. "Their two guards shot 18-for-43, or something like that, and that's pretty doggone good ... I thought we did about as good of a job as you can guarding them."
New Orleans, which once held a 16-point lead, cradled a two-point lead headed into the fourth quarter. And this time, the Pelicans stood tall — not tipping over and surely not losing another winnable contest inside the Smoothie King Center.
"To get a win at home is very important to us," Holiday said.
The Pelicans will return to New Orleans on Jan. 20 after a three-game road trip to New York, Boston and Atlanta.