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Pelicans shootaround update: New Orleans aims to ‘play how we play’ in Game 2

Seven different New Orleans players made their NBA career playoff debut Sunday in Phoenix, but truth be told, the Pelicans have been performing under postseason-like conditions for several weeks now, having to battle their way into a play-in tournament berth since the All-Star break. Still, the atmosphere ratcheted up a few notches in Game 1 against the Suns, at least partly because the opposition presents the league’s biggest challenge right now, posting a 64-18 record this season.

Two days after his first NBA playoff tilt, New Orleans rookie wing Herbert Jones noted following Tuesday’s shootaround that the past week has featured some of the best environments he’s witnessed in basketball, starting with Wednesday’s play-in win over San Antonio in the Smoothie King Center.

“The play-in games were almost like Game 7,” the second-round pick from Alabama said. “When we had the game in New Orleans, it almost felt like a championship game. Then we came out to L.A., it was almost that same level of intensity. (And) when we came here (to Phoenix). I feel like the adjustments we made (entering Tuesday’s Game 2) and getting a (playoff) game under our belts, it definitely helps.”

Shooting woes significantly hampered New Orleans’ chances of posting a Game 1 upset, but the offensive struggles were a teamwide issue, not just for the club’s seven first-time playoff participants. CJ McCollum shot 9/25, while Jonas Valanciunas was 7/21. Larry Nance Jr. was an exception among the squad’s three playoff “veterans,” providing a big boost in the second half (14 points), but the Pelicans couldn’t overcome an uncharacteristic start.

Over the past 48 hours, the Pelicans have emphasized trying to return to the style of play that made them successful, particularly during the second half of the season.

“Playing how we play,” Jones said of the team’s Tuesday objective. “Playing fast, sharing the ball and crashing the boards. I feel like we got back to that in the second half (in Game 1). Hopefully we’ll come out tonight and do that for an entire game.”

Other notes:

Starting power forward Jaxson Hayes had a quiet Game 1 and only logged 11 minutes, with Phoenix doubling off him and leaving him open at the three-point line. Hayes indicated that he must be more aggressive: “(That is) really important. They’re always going to be guarding me with a pigeon, a smaller guy who sits in the middle and tries to plug stuff up. So I’ve got to crash (the boards), duck in (as a cutter), or run a quick play to (get the ball to an open man).” …

Jones on Phoenix perennial All-Star guard Chris Paul, whose 19-point fourth quarter in Game 1 sealed the win for the Suns: “Great player. Knows the game. He’s probably seen every coverage you can imagine. It’s going to be tough defensively guarding him, but that’s why it’s a team defense. Hopefully we’ll do a better job tonight than we did the first game.”

PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS

NEW ORLEANS (8TH SEED IN WEST)

Game 1 loss at Phoenix

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

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

Notes: Combined with two play-in round victories and Sunday’s defeat, this starting group is 9-4 overall this season. … Seven of the 10 New Orleans players who received playing time Sunday were making their NBA playoff debut, including rookies Jones, Murphy and Alvarado. Playoff newcomers Ingram, Graham and Hayes are in their sixth, fourth and third NBA seasons, respectively. Marshall is a second-year pro.

PHOENIX (1ST SEED IN WEST)

Game 1 win vs. New Orleans

Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton

Reserves: Cam Johnson, Cam Payne, JaVale McGee, Torrey Craig

Notes: Sunday’s victory improved this starting group’s record to 32-7 this season. A separate combination with McGee at center in place of the injured Ayton is 9-0. … Of the nine Suns who received playing time Sunday, all are returnees from the 2021 Western Conference champions except McGee, who played for Denver last season. … The winner of the New Orleans-Phoenix series will face the winner of Utah-Dallas, which is tied at one game apiece after the Mavericks prevailed Monday.

FANDUEL KEYS TO THE GAME

PLAY WITH PACE

New Orleans’ offense looked a bit stagnant Sunday in the first half, leading to some poor numbers, including just five assists and 22 percent shooting. The Pelicans moved the ball and their attack much better after intermission (15 assists), but overall finished with just two fast-break points (they averaged 14.3 during the regular season, sixth in NBA). Sunday’s 99 points represented the Pelicans’ first time being held under the century mark since Feb. 10 vs. Miami, McCollum’s debut in the Crescent City.

GUARD THE GUARDS

Paul and Booker are a handful and then some for every NBA defense. After a week-plus hiatus from games, the Phoenix duo took turns doing damage Sunday, with Booker’s 10-point first quarter setting the tone and Paul’s 19-point fourth period putting the game on ice. The backcourt All-Stars totaled 55 points, including 8/14 three-point shooting.

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Speaking of highly productive duos, on the New Orleans side, top scorers McCollum and Ingram experienced rough Game 1s, but the Pelicans were still within striking distance in the fourth quarter, before Paul took over with a bucket barrage. McCollum and Ingram totaled 43 points, but did so in inefficient fashion, needing 42 shots to get there. The Pelicans shot under 40 percent as a team in a game for the first time since Jan. 31 at Cleveland.