Pelicans shootaround presented by HUB International: New Orleans expresses urgency to stay in race

by Jim Eichenhofer

The head coach described his team’s upcoming stretch as pivotal, saying, “This is it. Let’s call it like it is – we’ve got to do well this week.” The club’s four-time All-Star echoed that sentiment after Tuesday’s morning shootaround by adding, “We’ve got to play (every game) like it’s our last.”

It’s safe to say that with only 16 games remaining in the regular season, the New Orleans Pelicans (26-40) are fully aware of the dire situation they’re facing. New Orleans trails eighth-place Denver (32-35) by 5.5 games, as well as a pack of other Western Conference teams, leaving almost no wiggle room. Tuesday’s guest at the Smoothie King Center is ninth-place Portland (29-36), a below-.500 team but one that nonetheless is still 3.5 games ahead of the Pelicans. The Trail Blazers can just about wrap up a potential tiebreaking advantage over the Pelicans by winning Tuesday, because it would mean a 2-1 head-to-head edge, and the second tiebreaking step is conference record, which Portland leads by a wide margin.

“We know what we have to do,” Anthony Davis said this morning at the Metairie practice facility. “We have 16 games left. We know we have to win most of them to get in the playoffs. Every game right now is important to us.”

“We’ve got to start winning games and winning consistently if we’re going to have any chance at a playoff spot at all,” Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry had said following Monday’s practice.

Other notes entering Tuesday’s West matchup:

New Orleans has gone from ninth in the NBA in pace (100.13 possessions per 48 minutes, via prior to the All-Star break and its major trade to 14th post-break (98.55), something Davis attributes to integrating new players, some of whom are not entirely familiar with the team’s offense.

“It just happens with new guys,” Davis said. “You don’t want to play too fast, especially with guys who haven’t caught up with the offense. But we still want to push to get down the floor, to make sure we have enough time to run our offense. I don’t think it’s anything intentional. It’s something that kind of happens.” …

Davis on his pairing with DeMarcus Cousins: “I like him. We complement each other pretty well. There is stuff we’ve still got to figure out on offense, and defensively. But it’s a process. I think we’re getting better with each other each and every day.” …

Portland is 12th in the NBA in offensive efficiency (107.5 points per 100 possessions), but fifth from the bottom in defense (109.0). The only teams more porous on the defensive end are the Lakers (30th), Denver, Brooklyn and Phoenix. Among the eight worst defensive teams in the NBA, Denver is the only squad currently in position standings-wise to make the playoffs. …

Davis on the Trail Blazers: “Their two guards, C.J. (McCollum) and Dame (Lillard), are terrific scorers, can shoot the basketball very well, get in the paint and find other guys. So we’ve got to contain those two.”

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