Pelicans look to overcome troublesome Kings in home opener
The 2018-19 season couldn’t have started any better for the New Orleans Pelicans.
New Orleans kept the Houston Rockets from getting off the launching pad during a 131-112 beatdown at the Toyota Center Wednesday night.
Next up, the Pelicans play their home opener Friday night against the Sacramento Kings, who lost 123-117 to the Utah Jazz to start the season. It was an impressive showing against possibly the NBA’s best defense.
Last year’s Kings gave the Pelicans more problems than expected, splitting the four game season series, with both losses coming at home. In fact, New Orleans is just 6-4 against Sacramento in their last 10 meetings.
“We’ve talked about it,” Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said of his team’s struggles against the Kings while addressing the media after Thursday’s practice. “If you go look at my board right there, you’ll see ‘home losses,’ and there are two by Sacramento with a circle around it.”
Those numbers are reason enough for the Pelicans not to take the Kings lightly. Another reason is that while Sacramento may not possess the star power of the Pelicans, their roster is built to counter what New Orleans does best.
Like the Pelicans, the Kings start three guards and two forwards. Their center is the uber-athletic Willie Cauley-Stein, and former Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica is a 6-11 shooter who can play the three and four spots. Their guards are all capable of getting hot from beyond the arc.
“They’re a good, young team that’s very athletic,” continued Gentry. “They’re playing guys when you think about it…(Marvin) Bagley, and (De’Aaron) Fox…they’re playing a bunch of 20 to 25 year olds. They’ve got a lot young guys trying to establish themselves in the league, and because of that they feel like they can go beat anybody at anytime.”
Sacramento frustrated Anthony Davis last season, holding him to 19.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.7 assists in three games. Their collective length is certainly a big factor in that. The Kings feature nine players on their roster measuring 6-9 or taller, including Bagley, the second overall pick in this year’s draft.
Veteran Zach Randolph, who averaged 23.3 points and 9.8 boards against New Orleans last season (30.5 in the two wins) is back again, but this team is built around that youthful core.
The Kings’ starting lineup averages a mere 2.6 seasons of experience and just over 24 years of age.
Thursday they added former Pelicans forward Troy Williams, who signed a two-way contract.
The Pelicans showed against Houston that their top six players can hang with anyone when they’re at their best, but their depth will be tested by the Kings.
Kings head coach Dave Joerger likes to go deep into his bench, something that the Rockets were unable to do. Nine players saw at least 10 minutes of action against the Jazz, with five scoring in double figures.
Sacramento is just as committed to pushing the pace this season as the Pelicans, a sharp departure for a team that was dead last in that category a year ago.
“It shows that, if we can get out in transition, we can really score the ball,” Kings small forward Justin Jackson told The Sacramento Bee. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can get up and down the court, and a lot of guys who can make plays for others and make plays for themselves. It shows that if we get out in transition – first, it’s (about) getting (defensive) stops – but if we can get out in transition, we can really put some points on the board.”
Pelicans fans, who are expected to be electric after last season’s success and Wednesday’s lopsided victory, should be prepared for another track meet at the Smoothie King Center.
This is a game the Pelicans should win, but not one they should take lightly. New Orleans has a chance to start a season 2-0 for the first time since the 2011-12 season, the year before Anthony Davis arrived.
It will be key that Davis, Julius Randle, and Niko Mirotic stay out of foul trouble. The Pelicans will need their guards to keep the Sacramento backcourt out of rhythm. And most importantly, the Pelicans must continue to value the basketball.
If they do that, the Pelicans really have an opportunity to take off this season.
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Sports 1280am host/CCS reporter
David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…