Josh Hart takes the ball to the basket vs. Miami

Josh Hart’s aggressive rebounding, energy off bench vital in Pelicans’ win over Heat

by Jim Eichenhofer

Josh Hart pursues rebounds with so much aggression, so much reckless abandon, that even one of the NBA’s most physically-feared players sometimes looks over his shoulder when a missed shot bounces off the rim.

“I mean, he’s going to throw his body in for the rebound,” a smiling Zion Williamson said Saturday of Hart’s breakneck approach. “There are some rebounds where I think I’m going to get it, but I see Josh (ferociously crashing the boards) and I say, ‘Hey, you got it man!’ Josh is going to run into his own teammate to get that rebound. He can have it!”

Hart’s attacking style of rebounding – which he described early this season during a postgame interview as “Just go get the (expletive) ball” – has proven invaluable for New Orleans (27-36) during its in-season turnaround and pursuit of a Western Conference playoff berth. The third-year wing who often rebounds and scraps in the paint like a power forward grabbed 12 boards Friday vs. Miami, helping to spearhead an important 110-104 win. He also scored 19 points and sank one of the biggest shots of the night, a three-pointer to give the Pelicans a two-possession lead with three-plus minutes left.

“Josh had one of those games last night where you saw his work on the stat sheet, but there are some (games) where his hard work isn’t on the stat sheet and it goes unappreciated,” Williamson said. “But you’ve got to appreciate Josh – he always brings the energy, the aggression. That energy really helps us.”

“He’s been a good rebounder from Day 1 here,” Pelicans fifth-year head coach Alvin Gentry said of the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder. “That’s what he’s been since his days (in college) at Villanova. He’s played up, bigger than his size since he came in the league. Always been a pretty good rebounder, regardless of where he’s been on the court. He’s gotten some pack rebounds that you don’t normally see from a guard or a small forward, against a lot bigger players.”

Hart’s knack for coming up with contested rebounds was particularly vital for New Orleans early in the season, prior to Williamson making his Jan. 22 debut and center Derrick Favors rejoining the lineup permanently in mid-December. For much of the first half of the season, the Pelicans were beaten on the boards, but thanks to those three and contributions from several other players, they’re the NBA’s fourth-best rebounding team since Jan. 1. Hart is New Orleans’ third-leading rebounder (6.5 rpg)in 2019-20.

“Him giving us energy every time the ball goes up, you know Josh Hart is coming from somewhere to go get that rebound,” guard Jrue Holiday said. “When we had that trouble rebounding this season, Josh really stepped up and took pride in it. Every time he comes in, the momentum is definitely on our side.”

“I definitely want to bring the energy,” Hart said after the Miami win. “My role is to give energy, that’s all.”

Pelicans teammates may have initially been taken aback by Hart’s relentlessness in going after rebounds, but it’s now become very common to see him hurl his body into a group of opponents to seize the ball, seemingly against all odds.

“At first I was surprised,” Williamson said. “But not anymore.”

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