The New Orleans Pelicans looked dead in the water after DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles tendon, losing five of their first six games after the All-Star big man went down in the middle of a signature victory over the Houston Rockets.
Since then, though, they've managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, ripping off 11 wins in their last 13 games to entrench themselves in the race for not only a playoff spot, but for home-court advantage in the Western Conference first round.
While Anthony Davis has earned the lion's share of the credit for the Pelicans' Boogie-less resurgence, he's been getting a lot of help from unheralded guard Jrue Holiday, who's averaged 20.7 points and 7.5 assists on .477/.370/.778 shooting since Cousins got hurt. Holiday says it took a meeting between him, Davis, veteran backcourt mate Rajon Rondo, and head coach Alvin Gentry to turn the tide of New Orleans' season.
"A.D. and I had a big conversation, including Rondo and Gentry, and we talked about staying positive," Holiday told Yahoo's Shams Charania.
"We really felt like we lost a big piece in DeMarcus. We've been rolling right now, but with him we started to get in a groove. That Houston game was a real important staple, showing us we can compete against anyone in the league with DeMarcus. We've had a lot of challenges over the years, dealing with injuries in previous years and this year with Solomon (Hill) and our rookie, Frank (Jackson). We dealt with challenges just coming into the season with different players, and even though we finished the year well with DeMarcus last season, we had to figure ourselves out again."
The Pelicans are far from being out of the woods. Their remaining schedule rates as the fourth-most difficult in the NBA, and the second-hardest (behind only the Oklahoma City Thunder's) of the eight teams currently vying for the final six playoff spots in the West.
They have two more games against the Rockets, one against the Golden State Warriors, and five left against their fellow playoff hopefuls in that 3-10 seeding shuffle. Twelve of their final 15 games come against teams with winning records, against which they are 19-20 this season. Making the postseason is still going to take some doing. But Holiday feels they've accrued the self-belief to get it done.
"At this point, we all know the Western Conference is a beast," he said. "Just a couple games between the third and the (10th) spot. There's an understanding, but we've had fun. Maybe this will be the challenge we needed because we persevered through it for now."