Zach LaVine tries to dribble past Steven Adams

Pelicans shootaround update presented by Entergy: Chicago rematch another test for NOLA’s defense

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Stan Van Gundy recently half-jokingly described New Orleans’ early-February journey for games at Chicago, Dallas and Memphis as “the worst defensive road trip in NBA history.” After the Pelicans had previously put together a season-best four-game winning streak through Feb. 9, the Bulls began NOLA’s distasteful excursion Feb. 10 by lighting up the scoreboard. Chicago guards Zach LaVine and Coby White became the first starting NBA backcourt ever to have both players sink eight-plus threes in the same game, pacing the Bulls to a 129-116 victory and franchise record for treys (25).

In the four weeks since visiting the Windy City, New Orleans’ defense has made some incremental improvements, particularly in reducing opponent three-point makes. The Pelicans have allowed 20-plus opponent three-pointers once in their last nine games, after they did so three times between Feb. 2-12, in games at Indiana, Chicago and Dallas.

Speaking after Wednesday’s shootaround, Pelicans center Steven Adams listed some of the ways NBA teams like his try to focus on improvement defensively.

“Make sure your scouting on a certain team is at a high level,” he said. “Make sure (your) players understand what (the opponent’s) go-to plays are, and the way to play defense. It is a difficult task. I guess it’s just finding a rhythm and getting used to your players and what situations you have to rotate. Because that’s what kills you, right? If you rotate, but it’s just a second or half-second late. That gets the other team going.”

Other notes following shootaround:

Asked how encouraged he is by the Pelicans being able to beat elite NBA teams like Utah, Phoenix and Milwaukee over the past month-plus, Adams was introspective, choosing to view it from a bigger-picture lens.

“It’s more of like, for our team specifically and internally, have we made those leaps?” Adams said. “Because that will lead to more consistent play and stringing together wins, rather than these one-off wins. Although it’s good, you have to kind of bypass that stuff (of getting overly pleased by notable wins). Get to the nuts and bolts of how your system is running and if you’ve made improvements. A lot of those games can be seen as a lot of fool’s gold, if it’s not addressed properly.” …

A smiling Adams pointing out the importance of executing the defensive game plan in a rematch vs. Chicago: “(Reducing Bulls three-pointers) was our plan last time too, but it didn’t bloody work out, eh? So we’ll see how it bloody goes tonight.”


Chicago scouting report

Offensive efficiency rank: 15 (111.4)

Defensive efficiency rank: 19 (112.1)

Net rating: 20 (-0.8)

Streak: Lost 2

Go-to guy: The Bulls have not made the NBA playoffs since 2017, but a primary reason they have a chance to get there this season is the performance of first-time All-Star shooting guard LaVine. Sometimes viewed as a player who puts up very good numbers on bad teams – he began his NBA career with struggling Minnesota – LaVine has won over many prior skeptics in 2020-21. The UCLA product has upped his scoring efficiency to sky-high levels, shooting 52 percent from the field, 43 percent on three-pointers and 85 percent at the foul line. He has 16 games of 30-plus points this season, topped by 46 vs. New Orleans on Feb. 10.

On the rise: After one season at Florida State, 6-foot-7 forward Patrick Williams’ draft stock blew up leading up the November event, resulting in Chicago selecting him fourth overall. Not bad for a player who did not start in college for the Seminoles. Williams has given Bulls fans plenty of reasons to be excited about the future, with the 19-year-old averaging 10.1 points and shooting 39 percent from three-point range. The Charlotte native had a quiet seven-point, five-rebound game vs. the Pelicans on Feb. 10, but has compiled five double-digit scoring games over Chicago’s last seven contests.

Previous game starting lineups

CHICAGO (15-18)

Monday loss vs. Denver

Coby White, Zach LaVine, Garrett Temple, Patrick Williams, Wendell Carter

Notes: This group is 5-4, starting each of the last eight Bulls games, as well as a Jan. 10 loss at the Clippers. … Chicago has used seven different starting lineups, with this being the most frequent and most successful. Three other semi-common groupings are 3-3, 2-4 and 2-5. … LaVine and White have started all 33 games, while Williams has made 32 starts. Forwards Lauri Markkanen (14 starts) and Otto Porter (six starts) have been sidelined recently by injury.

NEW ORLEANS (15-19)

Monday win vs. Utah

Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams

Notes: This group is 13-15, including 7-3 at home since Jan. 27, highlighted by wins over Milwaukee, Phoenix, Memphis and Utah. … The Pelicans’ other wins without this group together are Jan. 17 at Sacramento (Nickeil Alexander-Walker started for injured Ball) and Feb. 21 vs. Boston (Willy Hernangomez started for injured Adams).

Pelicans keys to victory

ZACH ATTACK

LaVine was a machine for Chicago in the Feb. 10 matchup between these teams, piling up 46 points in the United Center, three shy of his career high. It’s been difficult to keep the talented athlete and shooter from big scoring nights, but New Orleans’ defense needs to do much better than allowing LaVine to go 17/25 from the floor and 9/14 from three-point range. Fellow Bulls starting guard White also rolled to a 30-point, eight-trey performance three weeks ago.

BULLS ON THE BOARDS

Chicago was the relatively rare team to hold its own rebounding-wise vs. New Orleans this season. The Pelicans are the NBA’s second-best rebounding team in 2020-21, grabbing 52.9 percent of all available boards, but tied the Bulls 35 apiece in the Feb. 10 matchup (it didn't help that there weren't many defensive boards to be had for NOLA). LaVine and New Orleans-born Thaddeus Young spearheaded Chicago with seven caroms apiece.

BULLY/BILLY BALL

New Orleans has generated points in the paint at a prodigious clip recently, leaning heavily on Williamson, who has been unstoppable when attacking the rim, even against feared shot-blockers like Utah’s Rudy Gobert. Hernangomez – whose first name is spelled “Willy,” but pronounced “Billy” – also has been efficient offensively. In the Feb. 10 game at Chicago, the two bigs combined to shoot 16/23.



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