Large fan turnout highlights Saturday’s Pelicans open practice

by Jim Eichenhofer

New Orleans’ annual open practice Saturday in the Smoothie King Center was enlightening from a basketball standpoint, in that it was the first chance to watch several new Pelicans players in action, including Rajon Rondo and Ian Clark. In the stands, it may have been even more enlightening.

If Saturday’s attendance is any indication, the team’s fan base is very eager for the 2017-18 campaign to begin in mid-October, as an estimated 6,500 were in the seats. That’s believed to be the biggest crowd for an open practice in New Orleans since the franchise returned full-time to the Crescent City in 2007.

“It was fun,” Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday said. “I felt like it’s been so long since we competed with a couple thousand fans or however many it was. I feel like since I’ve been here that’s the most fans we have had at an event like this.”

“We had a really, really good crowd today for a scrimmage or open practice,” third-year head coach Alvin Gentry said. “That made me very excited, to see that many people show up on a day where, in this town, there are a zillion things to do. I hope they’ll continue to come out. We have to give them something to cheer for.”

One of the biggest cheers Saturday occurred when second-year forward Cheick Diallo sank a game-winning jumper to cap one of the scrimmage sessions. The 21-year-old said the fan support made Saturday’s practice even more enjoyable.

“I loved the crowd,” he said. “They all make my hyped up and make it exciting. When Jrue scored that last point (to tie a scrimmage with 2.5 seconds left), I was like, ‘Wow! I need to go score because it was a tied game.’ I got the pass and got the handoff and was able to shoot it and make it.”

Other notes from the open practice:

On the injury front, neither was anything of concern, but Anthony Davis left briefly due to hurting his shoulder. Gentry said Davis is fine. Meanwhile, forward Dante Cunningham was held out of the scrimmages with a hip flexor; Alexis Ajinca was not with the team as he went home to be there for the birth of his second child. …

None of these statistics are official, but DeMarcus Cousins led the combined scrimmages with 23 points, including five three-pointers. Two-way contract signees Charles Cooke (14 points, two treys) and Jalen Jones (10 points, two treys) delivered multiple positive plays. …

The scrimmages were marked by a consistent, up-tempo style of play and a boatload of three-point accuracy. A total of 10 different players sank at least one bucket from beyond the arc, among the 13 players who scored.