Pelicans shootaround update presented by HUB International: New Orleans looks forward to ramping up Rajon Rondo minutes

by Jim Eichenhofer

DENVER – While on a minute restriction, New Orleans point guard Rajon Rondo bumped his playing time from five minutes Monday to 14 on Wednesday. Entering Friday’s ESPN game at Denver (9:30 p.m. Central), the Pelicans are expected to increase that to between 20 and 24 minutes against the Nuggets, according to Alvin Gentry. New Orleans (8-7) is eager to get its floor leader and biggest summer addition on the hardwood for longer stretches of games.

“He makes the game easy for everybody,” DeMarcus Cousins said of Rondo, who dished out eight assists in those 14 minutes vs. Toronto. “The energy in the game was through the roof while he was on the floor. Having a floor general like that, then missing him for the beginning of the season, hurt us as a team. But once we get him at 100 percent, we’ll be a totally different team.”

The Pelicans were plus-9 with Rondo on the court Wednesday, but minus-18 when he sat during what turned out to be a 125-116 defeat to the Raptors. One of the biggest impacts Rondo may be able to make – particularly as he logs more minutes – is to improve New Orleans’ decision-making and reduce the team’s turnovers. The Pelicans had a recent two-game turnover total of 42.

“Take the ball, please,” a laughing Cousins said Thursday of Rondo being able to handle major passing and creating responsibilities. “I’ve had enough of it. Him coming back, it lightens the load on a lot of guys. I don’t have to be as much of a playmaker as I had to be in the past. It’s obvious, he is by far a better playmaker than anybody on the floor. Him coming back, the game becomes easier for us.”

Other notes from Friday shootaround at the Pepsi Center and Thursday’s practice:

Former Denver guard Jameer Nelson knows the Nuggets’ roster extremely well, having played with a majority of that club’s current players. Behind the elite passing of Nikola Jokic and another very good big-man passer, Paul Millsap, the Pelicans need to be aware of cutters in the halfcourt attack. This morning, Nelson emphasized the importance of a collective mindset on the defensive end while facing the Nuggets (8-6).

“They’re definitely a good passing team,” Nelson said of Denver. “I don’t know the statistic, but last year we passed the hell out of the ball, with pretty much the same personnel.

“(The Pelicans have) just got to lock in and help each other. We can’t come out and just make it an individual game or an individual defensive game. It has to be a team game. For 48 minutes, it has to be that way.” ...

New Orleans needs to improve defensively overall, coming off a stretch in which it has allowed 120-plus points twice in the past four games. The only opponent to score more than Toronto’s 122 and 125 points in recent victories over New Orleans was Golden State, which piled up 128 in the Smoothie King Center on Oct. 20.

“Our rotations haven’t been as good as they can be,” Cousins said. “Getting out and contesting jump shots has been a problem of late. It’s a lot of small things that are becoming a big problem and hurting us during the game. But they are very fixable problems.”