JJ Redick defends against San Antonio guard Patty Mills

Pelicans shootaround update presented by Entergy: NOLA needs to ‘buckle down’ on defense

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

In the midst of a rough stretch, if New Orleans is seeking positive reinforcement, it should look no further than the game tape from Dec. 27. On that Sunday evening, the Pelicans held the San Antonio Spurs under 100 points, the biggest key of a three-point victory. The win was sealed in the final seconds, when Eric Bledsoe blocked a DeMar DeRozan three-point attempt. Unfortunately for New Orleans (5-10), the team’s defensive performance began dipping shortly thereafter, a major factor in a 1-5 road trip and 2-8 January.

For the Pelicans to get back in the win column and improve to .500 at home this season, they’ll need to show some semblance of that defensive effectiveness from last month. The second game of 2020-21 between New Orleans and San Antonio takes place at 8 p.m. Monday in the Smoothie King Center.

“We need to watch the film of that game, and see the kind of defensive team we were then,” New Orleans reserve Josh Hart said after Monday’s shootaround. “Where we are now, I think we’ve had some slippage and gaps we have to fill. The first five games of the season, we did that. The first few games of the season, it was easier, because we were coming right out of training camp, drilling it every day, going for hours at practice, doing that repetition, repetition, repetition. Now that we’re not able to practice as long or as hard, we’ve got to learn on film. We’ve got to see what we were doing in that game and how we can translate that to this game.”

San Antonio struggled Dec. 27 in multiple offensive categories, including shooting 43 percent from the field and only taking eight free throws. New Orleans overcame its own problems on offense (38 percent shooting, 5/24 from three-point range), something that hasn’t been possible lately due to allowing too many points by the opposition. Hart indicated that the Pelicans would like to fast-break more often and generate easy baskets, but the other end of the floor is helping to prevent that.

“Our defense has been terrible, to be frank,” Hart said. “We want to play fast, get out in transition and move the ball, but when you’re taking the ball out of the net and having to inbound it every possession, it’s tough. You can still have pace, but not as much as you want. We’ve got to buckle down on the defensive end and take pride in that, hold each other accountable, get stops and then play in transition.”


San Antonio scouting report

Offensive efficiency rank: 17 (109.0)

Defensive efficiency rank: 9 (108.6)

Streak: Won 1

Go-to guy: The Spurs have shown excellent offensive balance through 17 games this season, with seven players averaging at least 11.8 points. DeMar DeRozan (20.1) is the No. 1 option, as the gap between he and second-leading scorer Dejounte Murray (14.6) is fairly significant. If DeRozan continues at his current pace, this will be the eighth consecutive season that he’s topped 20 points a night, dating back to his final five campaigns with Toronto. The USC product and Los Angeles native is one of the game’s premier mid-range scorers and is averaging a career-high 6.8 assists, including 10 dimes at New Orleans on Dec. 27.

On the rise: Third-year wing Lonnie Walker compiled a recent three-game stretch of 65 total points, including consecutive outings of 25 and 24 points vs. Minnesota and Oklahoma City. The Miami (Fla.) product has nearly doubled his scoring average compared to last season, averaging 12.5 points (up from 6.4 in 2019-20). Walker scored 16 points at New Orleans on Dec. 27, highlighted by 4/7 three-point accuracy.

Previous game starting lineups

SAN ANTONIO (9-8)

Sunday win vs. Washington

Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, Keldon Johnson, DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge

Notes: The Spurs have been very good with this first unit, sporting an 8-4 record, while just 1-4 in other games. … San Antonio has only used three different starting lineups; beyond this quintet, Jakob Poeltl (three starts) and Trey Lyles (two starts) are the other Spurs to start a game.

NEW ORLEANS (5-10)

Saturday loss at Minnesota

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

Notes: This group is 4-8 when it starts together. When Ball, Ingram and Williamson all started last season, the Pelicans were 10-12 (Ingram was sidelined for two of Williamson’s 24 total rookie starts). … Ingram and Adams have started all 15 games this season.

Pelicans keys to victory

DEFENSE LIKE DEC. 27

A lot has transpired since then, but 29 days and a dozen games ago, New Orleans held San Antonio to just 95 points, the second-stingiest defensive outing by the Pelicans this season. Limiting the Spurs’ attack anywhere close to that number in Monday’s rematch would be considered a major success.

BRING THE ENERGY

It’s often said in the NBA that the first home game after a long road trip can feel like an extension of that trip from a fatigue standpoint. New Orleans can’t afford to come out sluggishly in its return home, needing wins immediately in order to get back in the playoff (or play-in) discussion. Meanwhile, San Antonio is playing the second game of a back-to-back, traveling from Texas to Louisiana late Sunday night.

SECOND-UNIT SPARK

San Antonio has one of the deepest benches in the league and comes off a Sunday win in which reserves Patty Mills (21 points), Devin Vassell (14) and Rudy Gay (13) provided a big boost. New Orleans needs more production from its backups, who combined for 17 points in 78 total minutes Saturday at Minnesota.

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