The New Orleans Pelicans needed a change. They had lost four straight games and eight of their last 13, falling from the fourth seed and a favorite to make their first playoff appearance in three years to a tie for eighth place — just a half-game from dropping into the lottery for a third straight season.
To put a finer point on it, Nikola Mirotic needed a change. Since the Pelicans traded a first-round pick for him in early February, the former Chicago Bulls forward was averaging 12.9 points on 11.8 shots per game — for a field-goal percentage 40.4 percent — entering Wednesday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Over the past month, as the Pelicans have lost their grip on the season, he’s been worse.
Mirotic found that change in the form of a shave. In four NBA seasons, he had sported his signature beard for every game. He hadn’t played unshaven since his days as the Spanish League MVP in Madrid. That all changed on Wednesday, when he appeared clean-shaven and unrecognizable at shootaround.
— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) April 4, 2018
“I wanted something new,” Mirotic told reporters, via New Orleans Times-Picayune beat reporter William Guillory. “I thought it was time to shave. [It’s] an important moment, and I was struggling a little bit, too. Let’s try something new. It feels good, so we’ll see tonight.”
“I’ve had a few tough games and we lost, too,” he added. “I’m really trying to be positive, to keep working hard. I know each game is really important now. We are fighting for something. I think this team deserves to be in the playoffs. I think I will bounce back. I just need one good game at home to get my confidence back.”
And boy did he get his confidence back. Mirotic proceeded to submit the best-shooting night of his young career, at least among nights he’s taken double-digit attempts, converting 10 of his 12 shots, including four 3-pointers, on his way to 25 points — his highest point total since joining the Pelicans.
The result was a must-have victory against Memphis that kept them apace with the seventh-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves and moved New Orleans a full game up on the ninth-place Denver Nuggets.
“It could be [the beard],” Mirotic told reporters after the 123-95 victory. “I’m happy to get some confidence back. We really needed this [win]. You know what? I’m going to keep shaving like this.”
He’s going to need all the swag he can get, because after the Pelicans face the tanking Suns on Friday, they close the season against the Warriors, Clippers and Spurs in a playoff race as close as his shave.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Player breaks up no-hitter by breaking unwritten rule
• Freakishly strong athlete has NFL teams’ attention
• Jeff Passan: Rockies star’s deal shows how much MLB has changed
• ESPN cuts to commercial at worst possible time
– – – – – – –