Jrue Holiday faces Utah defender Donovan Mitchell

Pelicans shootaround update: New Orleans emphasizes aggressive approach vs. Utah

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

The Utah Jazz have been an above-average defensive team statistically every season since 2014-15, in no small part due to the presence of perennial All-Defense center Rudy Gobert, who ranks sixth in the NBA in blocks this season, averaging 2.0 a game. New Orleans has experienced a fair share of success offensively in 2019-20 while facing Utah, however, putting up 120, 126 and 138 points in its three head-to-head matchups (the latter was in overtime). How have the Pelicans done it? By emphasizing aggressiveness on that end of the floor.

“Moving the ball and attacking them with straight-line drives,” guard Jrue Holiday said after Thursday’s shootaround of what’s worked vs. Utah. “Obviously with Rudy in (the paint), sometimes we have to adjust and make plays, but I think being aggressive and moving the ball has been really good for us.”

Holiday sat out two January games against the Jazz, but compiled 28 points at Salt Lake City on Nov. 23. Meanwhile, first-time All-Star Brandon Ingram was spectacular vs. Utah, scoring at least 33 points in every meeting, including a career-best 49 on Jan. 16.

Ingram on NOLA’s focus tonight, during this season’s fourth matchup vs. the Jazz: “Trying to get downhill and create for teammates, hitting the open guy on the offensive end and trying to build our rhythm from the start. We have to set a tempo in the beginning that we’re going to hit first and be aggressive.” …

Other notes after Thursday’s shootaround in Florida:

It’s been 6 1/2 months since New Orleans outlasted Utah 138-132 in OT on Jan. 16, but the Pelicans still can glean some takeaways from watching tape of the Jazz.

“We look back at film and some of the tendencies of each guy,” Ingram said of studying Utah’s personnel. “We see what they do well… They have new guys in the lineup who can pick up where other guys left off. It’s important for us on the defensive end to be aggressive and have a sense of urgency, especially running them off the three-point line and having guys block out Rudy Gobert (from offensive rebounds). We’ve definitely got to pay attention to detail.”

Utah shot 41 percent on three-pointers vs. New Orleans; Gobert averaged 16.5 rebounds in his two appearances.

Utah scouting report

Ten days apart in January, the Jazz and Pelicans played two dramatic games, with both coming down to the final seconds of regulation or overtime. Notably absent from Utah’s lineup during the NBA restart is forward Bojan Bogdanovic, who torched New Orleans to the tune of 29.7 points per game in three overall matchups, including a season-best 35 points on Jan. 6. The Jazz are led offensively by dynamic shooting guard Donovan Mitchell (team-high 24.2 ppg this season), who also flourished vs. the Pelicans, putting up 34.0 ppg, highlighted by a season-high 46 on Jan. 16. Jordan Clarkson (15.6 ppg) is Utah’s third-leading scorer despite coming off the bench in all 34 of his Jazz appearances. Gobert (15.1 ppg) and Mike Conley (13.8) have been longtime nemeses for New Orleans in the Western Conference.

What’s at stake for the Jazz in Orlando

Utah’s fluid position in the extremely tight West standings is reflected by this fact: If the Jazz (41-23) win tonight, they will pull within one game of third-place Denver (43-22). If the Jazz lose tonight, they will only be a half-game ahead of fifth-place Oklahoma City (40-24) and sixth-place Houston (40-24). Although removing homecourt advantage from the equation takes away some of the urgency to finish with a top-four or top-five seed, teams will spent the next 16 days trying to gain optimal seeding position. A rung further down the standings, No. 7 Dallas (40-27) is just 2.5 games behind Utah. A Mavericks-Jazz matchup is scheduled for Aug. 10.

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