Josh Hart tries to grab a loose ball from Minnesota's Malik Beasley

Pelicans 2020 seeding games profile: Josh Hart

by Jim Eichenhofer

It should already be obvious to anyone who’s watched Josh Hart stick his nose into a crowd to snare an offensive rebound, or drive end-to-end for a fast-break layup, or get in an opponent’s face on defense: The man only knows how to play no-holds-barred, full-tilt basketball.

That’s why Hart did not hesitate when he was asked July 2 if he’s thinking about his contract status and how it might affect the way he approaches games in Orlando.

“If I went down there and I was only playing half-speed because I was scared to get hurt, then I would probably get hurt doing that, or I would hurt my team from their chances of making the playoffs and making a run,” said Hart, who is eligible to sign a rookie-contract extension in October. “Cheating the organization and the city. So with me, I’m going out there and just wanting to win. Whatever happens (happens).”

That aggressive philosophy has helped make the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder New Orleans’ third-best rebounder on a per-minute basis this season, grabbing 8.5 boards per 36 minutes, behind only Derrick Favors (14.7) and Jahlil Okafor (10.1).

“I mean, he’s going to throw his body in for the rebound,” a smiling Zion Williamson said of Hart’s physicality. “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!”

In his first season with the Pelicans, teammates and coaches have been amused by some of Hart’s quirks, including his tendency to engage in conversation with opposing fans and benches. On at least a handful of occasions during New Orleans road games, Hart has drained a three-point shot, then run back on defense while simultaneously trash-talking fans in the first few rows of seats, or jawing with the opposing bench. Unfortunately for Hart, there won’t be fans in any of Orlando’s three venues.

“It’s definitely a bummer, because at the end of the day, you always like to interact with fans,” the 25-year-old said. “You like to make little kids’ day and do stuff like that. Playing with Villanova really will help me in the bubble. What Coach (Jay) Wright said was, ‘You play for your teammates and coaches.’ I think that’s something I can take into the bubble. You have those other 14 guys on the roster, and the coaches. They are all that really matters.”

Pelicans fifth-year head coach Alvin Gentry joked that Hart will find other ways to get himself going verbally.

“He’ll do enough of that (trash talk) with his own coaching staff,” Gentry said, laughing. “He’ll still have something to lean back on. No fans are there, so I guess (coaches will) be the target of his rants and raves.”

Seeding games to watch

Hart has good-naturedly bantered on social media recently with Utah shooting guard Donovan Mitchell (No. 14 in the NBA at 24.2 points per game), one of several high-scoring wings Hart and NOLA’s defense will try to contain in Florida. Other top-20 perimeter or wing scorers on the eight-game Pelicans schedule include the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (No. 8 at 26.9) and San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan (No. 18 at 22.2). Two of Mitchell’s three best scoring games of ’19-20 have come vs. New Orleans, but his season-high 46 points Jan. 16 was spoiled by a Utah overtime loss in the Smoothie King Center.

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