Jrue Holiday throws down a dunk vs. Phoenix

Pelicans 2020 seeding games profile: Jrue Holiday

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

On Dec. 18 at Minnesota, Jrue Holiday became New Orleans’ all-time career leader in three-pointers made, now with 621. Holiday is also fourth in franchise history with 409 games played. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old shooting guard, his Pelicans postseason totals in those two categories are just 17 and 12, respectively, due to a lack of opportunity. Seven seasons into Holiday’s Crescent City tenure, New Orleans fans have only had one legitimate chance to see “Playoff Jrue” go to work.

The Pelicans have made the Western Conference postseason twice since Holiday’s arrival, in 2015 and 2018, but he was severely limited by a leg injury in the first of those playoff trips, a sweep vs. Golden State in which he sat out Game 2 for precautionary reasons and averaged only 18 minutes off the bench. Three years later, the basketball world watched Holiday at the peak of his powers, as he spearheaded a stunning sweep over Portland by limiting Damian Lillard (35 percent FGs, 30 percent on threes) and erupting offensively. Holiday averaged 27.8 points vs. the Trail Blazers, capped by a career-best 41 points in the Game 4 clincher.

Along the way, the normally reserved Holiday seemed to transform into a more vocal, more expressive version of himself, even talking trash to Portland fans in the Moda Center, then memorably pointing at Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic after a highlight-reel dunk by Anthony Davis. In Orlando this summer, Holiday won’t have jeering opposing fans to provoke him, but the Pelicans are looking forward to seeing the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder get another crack at playing in spotlight games for New Orleans.

“Playoffs are like another season to be completely honest,” Holiday said, before alluding to the inspiration he gains from being there. “I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s kind of like a different wave of energy. By the end of the (82-game regular) season you’re tired. All the nicks and hurts that you have are maximized. There is just something about the playoffs and the atmosphere, and feeling like it’s you against the world, that gets you going.”

Before Holiday can begin to try to prepare younger teammates for what would be a brand-new NBA playoff experience for 10 of them, the Pelicans must win the majority of their eight seeding games from July 30-Aug. 13. There’s plenty of incentive for New Orleans to do that, in order to achieve its season-long goal of being among the top eight teams in the West.

“For me, my motivation is to get back because I know what it is like,” Holiday said of the playoffs. “I know the feeling. It’s kind of like a drug, if you will. For other guys, the guys who haven’t made it, you get that excitement of, ‘I want to taste that, I want a piece of that.’ ”

Seeding games to watch

Holiday has notched three games of 35-plus points this season, including a pair of 36-point outings in wins over the Clippers (NOLA’s Aug. 1 opponent) and Memphis (Aug. 3). He combined to shoot 12/16 from three-point range in those matchups. After reviewing his team’s eight-game Orlando schedule, Holiday appreciated that the Pelicans get head-to-head cracks at several of the closest West teams in the standings.

“We’re pretty much playing teams like San Antonio. We’re playing Memphis again,” he said. “We’re playing teams that are fighting for the eighth spot, which is going to (mean) … it might just be playoff mentality for us because we have to (have one) if we want to get to where we want to go.

“We know (the playoff chase is) going to be tough because you’ve got Portland, Sacramento, the Suns are kind of back there. You’ve got teams that are right neck-and-neck with us, and Memphis who still doesn’t want to let that (playoff spot) go. They’ve had time to rest and they’ve had time to prepare. Mentally, I think it’s going to be one of the biggest challenges that we’ve faced.”

Over an eight-day period, the Pelicans will play Memphis, Sacramento twice (Aug. 6, Aug. 11) and San Antonio (Aug. 9).

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