Given the marathon-like, 82-game schedule, many NBA teams like to break the season into more digestible 10-game segments. New Orleans’ first 10 outings in 2019-20 were perhaps best described as “frustrating,” given the team’s injury list, as well as a series of tight games that ended in narrow defeats. However, Thursday’s 132-127 victory vs. the LA Clippers provided several signs that the next set of 10 games could be much better for the Pelicans.
Here’s a look at some of what’s starting to trend in the right direction for New Orleans (3-8) and sparked the Pelicans to an entertaining win over a team many analysts predicted to be the favorite to capture the Western Conference title:
Holiday’s struggles in the first 10 games had been well-documented and discussed, criticism that had been noted by teammates, prompting Pelicans reserve guard Frank Jackson and close friend of Holiday to say after Holiday’s 36-point dominance Thursday that “a lot of guys were knocking him.” Jackson added, “But he’s one of the hardest-working dudes I know. That’s my big bro. To see him go off like that is normal for me. That’s what he does.”
Prior to his season-best game Thursday, which also included him recording six steals and pilfering the ball from Paul George on three key fourth-quarter possessions, Holiday was in the midst of a very rough shooting stretch. In the team’s first 10 games, the All-NBA defender shot 5/9 from three-point range vs. Denver on Halloween, but was 5/34 from deep aside from that. He bounced back in a big way at 5/7 against the Clippers, part of a 13/24 night overall.
“My teammates tell me all the time to be aggressive,” Holiday said postgame. “That’s the only way we’re going to win, or where we have the best chance. I’m just trying to do whatever I can. If I’m not scoring, guard the best player (on the opposing team).”
The 10-year NBA veteran got off to a sluggish start in his first few weeks with New Orleans, playing for a new team for the first time in nearly a decade, while also battling knee soreness. The center had gradually been looking better and better in recent games, but Thursday’s 20-point, 20-rebound performance was the best evidence yet that Favors is rounding into form. It marked a career high in boards, as the Pelicans pounded the Clippers in the rebounding category 52-37.
“It definitely felt great,” Favors said of the outcome, individually and team-wise. “I was dealing with some nagging stuff at the beginning of the year, but I’m definitely feeling better. My legs are starting to get up under me now. I’m starting to get comfortable here. This was a great game for me, a great game for the team. We’ve just got to stay consistent with it.”
Favors noted that his return from injury also has meant improved conditioning, allowing him to stay on the court longer. He logged 35 minutes against the Clippers.
“Just getting my legs under me and getting my wind,” he said. “I was kind of timid coming in, just with a new situation and everything. (I’m) playing my game, relaxing and not trying to force stuff.”
Like Favors, the veteran guard seemed to go through an adjustment period early in the schedule, but has been performing at a very high level in recent games. For instance, Redick shot 35 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range in the five October games, but since Nov. 1, he has bumped those rates to 44 percent and a red-hot 50 percent beyond the arc. Over the last three games – the latter two without New Orleans leading scorer Brandon Ingram available – Redick has averaged 21.0 points and has gone 15/31 on three-point shots. He’s drilled three or more treys in five of the team’s last six games, giving the Pelicans a dangerous perimeter threat.
“If you’re a pro, you just kind of stick to it,” Redick said of starting the season trying to get into a groove shooting-wise. “Your flow and your rhythm will come.”
Pelicans benefiting from greater opportunity
Kenrich Williams’ role fluctuated in the first eight games of the season, with him playing single-digit minutes twice, on Oct. 31 vs. Denver and Nov. 4 at Brooklyn. Since being moved into the starting lineup Saturday at Charlotte, however, he has been an integral piece, helping New Orleans rebound much better (8.7 rpg) and show some improvement defensively. “Kenny Hustle” has repeatedly been praised by Alvin Gentry, as well as teammates, for the spark he’s provided, some of which can’t be gauged in stats. He’s also scored some, though, averaging 10.3 ppg and going 7/16 on three-pointers.
To an even greater extent than Williams, wing E’Twaun Moore saw inconsistent minutes early in ’19-20, but made his first start Thursday and responded with 15 points, highlighted by 3/6 three-point shooting. He had 14 points off the bench vs. Houston on Monday, in 24 minutes of action.
“It definitely felt good,” Moore said after beating the Clippers. “Some of us weren’t really playing the minutes. For us to step in and be ready, it was really good for our team.”
Meanwhile, Jackson has been a rotation staple from the season opener, but with only 10 players in uniform Thursday, he attempted a season-high 14 shots and generated an efficient 23 points off the bench. The offensive production from the likes of Moore and Jackson was well-timed – until New Orleans’ injury report improves, the Pelicans are playing without their current first-, fourth-, fifth- and seventh-leading scorers, a group that combined to average 69.9 points per game.