Nikola Mirotic hasn’t been with the New Orleans Pelicans for long.
Acquired in a deadline deal from the Chicago Bulls, Mirotic wasn’t certain what to expect from his new team and new locker room, making the first move of his NBA career.
What he’s found, however, is a home.
“I love this group, to be honest,” Mirotic said. “The first day I came here, everybody was super nice to me and after a few games I felt like I’d been here a month. When I got here we lost the first couple of games, but the group really was sticking together and very much ready to start winning and getting on a streak.
“So, this has really been an amazing group. That’s another reason why we have been playing so well. Everyone does their job and knows what they need to do. You can see guys are excited to come and work hard.”
It’s showed up on the scoreboard. New Orleans has won seven consecutive games for the first time since 2011, and attempts to extend the streak on Sunday at 6 p.m., facing the Dallas Mavericks.
While the Pelicans’ success goes beyond locker-room cohesion, several players noted it’s been a critical facet in withstanding the blow delivered by DeMarcus Cousins’ cataclysmic Achilles tear.
New Orleans had won eight of nine games prior to Cousins' injury, and immediately fell into a four-game losing streak upon his absence. Since then, however, the season has turned back around.
“We are very close and I feel like when (Cousins) went down, we had to get even closer because guys had to step up,” Anthony Davis said. “This is one of the closest teams I’ve ever been on, and I’ve been saying that since the summer. These guys really like each other and they like playing with each other.
“When you have a team like that, then you know we can be really tough to beat.”
And, while Davis is the most prominent voice, he hasn’t acted alone in leading the Pelicans. Instead, Davis shares the vocal responsibilities with teammates Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo and others, inserting a widespread accountability across the roster.
It showed up in Wednesday’s win over the San Antonio Spurs, when Rondo let out an expletive-laced tirade entering the halftime locker room, which Holiday credited to the Pelicans’ second-half burst.
“AD will talk sometimes, but then it’s Jrue, Rondo, even E’Twuan Moore, sometimes everybody has to step up and say something,” 21-year-old Cheick Diallo said. “That’s the great thing, because there’s always someone to talk to. Even for me, I need guidance and I need someone to tell me I messed up.
“Solomon Hill (who hasn’t played this season due to a hamstring injury) tells me what I’m supposed to do and what needs to get done. So, I really appreciate everyone and how much they have to say.”
The togetherness has manifested itself in a variety of ways.
New Orleans ranks second in assists per game this season, a product of their pace and willingness to share the ball. And although Davis won Western Conference Player of the Month for his oversized stat lines, he credited the rest of the Pelicans for putting him in a position to succeed.
It’s all part of a team that’s pulling in the same direction. And, for the last seven games at least, that direction is toward the playoffs.
“I think it could’ve gone either way (after Cousins’ injury) and we could’ve felt sorry for ourselves and used it as an excuse,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “But, between AD, Jrue, Rondo and a few other guys, they said we still have a chance to accomplish what we set out to do. I think it took a few games to gain their footing and understand roles were going to change.
“You can see it on the floor. The one thing we are doing is not only are playing hard, but we are playing for each other. I think that’s the biggest thing.”