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Pelicans shootaround update: Herbert Jones enjoying first NBA playoff experience

Veteran NBA players sometimes talk about how there’s no way to explain the level to which on-court intensity ratchets up during the playoffs, that newcomers must experience it for themselves to truly understand the difference between the postseason and the regular season.

Three games into his first trip to the league’s playoff tournament, New Orleans first-year wing Herbert Jones now recognizes the change – and is thoroughly enjoying it. Asked about his initial experience in the postseason after Sunday’s shootaround, the Alabama product said, “It’s been fun. Home and away. Especially being at home, the crowd’s always into it. When you’re on the road, it’s a very intense game. The refs kind of let you get away with a little more (physical defense). It’s heightened awareness. Everybody’s playing super hard. It’s just super fun to play in.”

New Orleans rookies Jones, Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy III are all getting tested under the pressure of the playoffs, doing so while facing the NBA’s best team. On Sunday night in Game 4, the eighth-seeded Pelicans will try to even their season against No. 1 Phoenix (64-18 during the regular season) at two games apiece, with tip-off at 8:30 p.m. in the Smoothie King Center.

In addition to the rookie trio, four other Pelicans rotation members have put “playoff experience” on their NBA resume for the first time over the past week, including Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes, Devonte’ Graham and Naji Marshall.

Other notes from shootaround:

A legitimate candidate for an NBA All-Defensive team, Jones on there being more physicality and fewer touch fouls called during the postseason: “I love it. I feel like it’s how the playoffs should be. More physical than the regular season. It’s almost like you’re playing pickup with your friends, and you can be super aggressive." …

New Orleans was outscored 64-40 in the paint in Game 3, a very unusual development for a Pelicans defense that ranked ninth-best in paint points allowed during the regular season (45.3 per game). Hayes on what New Orleans must do to cut into how much Phoenix scores around the basket in Game 4: “Forcing guys to shoot contested threes, playing inside and then getting out (to shooters). I feel like that was a big focus for us earlier in the year, forcing guys to get kick-outs, forcing tough shots. We need to get back to that.” …

Asked about how to better react to “agitation” from Phoenix in the series after he was ejected from Game 3 due to a flagrant foul, Hayes responded, “You’ve just got to keep your tempers low. Worry about what you can (control). Worry about your team. Worry about winning the game. The little things. Can’t worry about anything else.”

PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS

PHOENIX (1ST SEED IN WEST, LEADS 2-1)

Game 3 win at New Orleans

Chris Paul, Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton

Reserves: Landry Shamet, Cam Payne, JaVale McGee, Torrey Craig, Bismack Biyombo

Notes: Johnson started in place of Devin Booker (hamstring), who is also out for Game 4. ... Ayton and McGee have shot a combined 40/55 in the series, which is 73 percent. Phoenix’s top six scorers in the series are all shooting over 50 percent from the field. … The winner of New Orleans-Phoenix will advance to meet the winner of Dallas-Utah, which is tied at two games apiece.

NEW ORLEANS (8TH SEED IN WEST)

Game 3 loss vs. Suns

CJ McCollum, Herbert Jones, Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes, Jonas Valanciunas

Reserves: Trey Murphy III, Larry Nance Jr., Jose Alvarado, Devonte’ Graham, Naji Marshall

Notes: Ingram is averaging a team-best 29.7 points in the series, followed by McCollum at 26.0. The Pelicans’ other double-digit scorers are Valanciunas (11.3) and Jones (10.3). … Seven of the club’s 10 rotation members are making their NBA playoff debuts this spring. McCollum, Valanciunas and Nance were the only players with previous experience.

FANDUEL KEYS TO THE GAME

HALFCOURT DEFENSE

Phoenix’s centers did a ton of damage in Game 3, with Ayton operating in the post and mid-range, while McGee scored a series of baskets from point-blank territory. In the fourth quarter, Paul executed the pick-and-roll to perfection, working his way to several high-percentage shots. New Orleans needs to make offense much more difficult for Phoenix’s bigs and its perennial All-Star floor general.

TURNOVER MARGIN

Phoenix has forced more turnovers than New Orleans in every game so far (14-10, 17-13, 15-6), with Game 3 representing the largest differential. The Pelicans must take better care of the ball in Game 4, while becoming much more disruptive on defense against the Suns’ efficient attack.

MATCHUP TO WATCH

One topic of discussion after Saturday’s Pelicans practice was the need to get Valanciunas more involved in the offense. The center from Lithuania has gone from 21 shot attempts in Game 1, to nine in Game 2, to just five in Game 3. He’s averaging a whopping 16.3 rebounds in the series, but New Orleans hopes to run more offense through its third-leading scorer in 2021-22.