Sleek Pelicans hard to slow down
NEW ORLEANS – The Pelicans scored a lousy 116 points Tuesday night.
After averaging 140 points in the first two games, including a franchise-record 149 against Sacramento on Friday, the 116 might seem like an off night. And maybe it was.
But the relatively modest point total was seven more than the Los Angeles Clippers scored in the Smoothie King Center as New Orleans improved to 3-0 for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
Before the game, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said, “Obviously we’re not going to average 140 points for the year. I’ll tell you that.”
No they’re not going to average 140, but at the pace that they set in the first two games – and which Gentry wants to make the norm – the 116 the Pelicans scored Tuesday might continue to seem like the offense is underperforming.
Jrue Holiday missed 13 of 15 shots and was the only one of New Orleans’ top six players not to score in double figures, finishing with eight points. Still, the Pelicans scored 116.
The Pelicans had their first sub-30-point quarter of the season when they scored 27 in the first quarter and they fell short again in the fourth, scoring just 25. Still, they scored 116.
“We can consistently run and open the floor up,” Gentry said. “There will be nights when we shoot the ball well that we’ll be capable of scoring pretty high numbers.”
That’s what happened in the season opener six days ago when they scored 131 in a 19-point thrashing of the Houston Rockets, the team with the best record in the NBA last season.
It’s what happened in the record-setting game two nights later when eight players scored in double figures, including one (guard Ian Clark), who had 13 after not even getting into the game against the Rockets.
It’s what started happening during the second half of last season after DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the season to a torn Achilles. New Orleans traded for Nikola Mirotic to replace Cousins and the net result was a sleeker team that could get up and down the court faster and score more efficiently.
The Pelicans wound up the sixth seed in the West and swept Portland in the first round of the playoffs before losing to eventual champion Golden State in five games in the Western semifinals.
Gentry has routinely dismissed the notion that the Pelicans were a better team without Cousins than they were with him, citing the 26 points and 13 rebounds Cousins averaged before being hurt. But those numbers don’t include Cousins’ turnovers or factor in how the ball movement stopped once the ball reached his hands or how much better the transition offense is with Mirotic.
“We were having success with (Cousins) so when we lost him we had to try and make the adjustments necessary to keep your team going and we just felt like in order for us to be successful we may have to play at an even faster pace, spread the floor more and be able to put (Anthony Davis) in a situation where we could alleviate some of the double teams that were coming at him,” Gentry said. “So that’s what we did.”
He and general manager Dell Demps liked what they saw so much that they didn’t over-spend to keep Cousins as a free agent and replaced him with a younger, more athletic Julius Randle when Cousins signed with the Warriors.
They added a younger more athletic point guard in Elfrid Payton and watched aged Rajon Rondo go the Lakers.
And now they’re sleeker, faster and scoring 116 points on an off night.
“I think they enjoyed playing that way last year and we had success doing it,” Gentry said. “I think coming into training camp they felt like if we could play a little faster and keep the turnovers at a workable spot we could have some success.
“We have very, very athletic bigs. We have a good rotation with three of them. When you do that and you’re able to spread the floor and you’ve got skilled big guys, we try to take advantage of what we can do best.”
Gentry emphasized before game that two games was “a really, really, really small sample,” which, of course it is.
“I wouldn’t get too excited about it until you get 15 or 20 games in,” Gentry added. “That’s when you’re pretty much who you are.”
It looks like they’re pretty good.
Coach @AlvinGentry is live with media following tonight's win!
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 24, 2018
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…