Jahlil Okafor takes a left-handed shot vs. Denver

Pelicans shootaround update by HUB International: Amid distractions, New Orleans emphasizing enjoyment of playing

Digital Media Videographer

SAN ANTONIO – Instead of a commonplace team chant such as “1-2-3, Pelicans,” in recent games New Orleans players and coaches have come out of huddles saying “1-2-3, have fun,” a message that appears to represent more than just some altered phrasing. New Orleans center Jahlil Okafor said after Saturday’s shootaround that the Pelicans are emphasizing the enjoyment of playing, something that can get lost during the grind of an 82-game season – perhaps even more so when there’s overwhelming focus on the business side of the sport. Much of the discussion of late surrounding the team understandably has been on Anthony Davis’ status, as well as Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.

“It’s really easy to forget why we’re playing the game of basketball and that’s because we fell in love with it,” Okafor said Saturday, when asked specifically about the squad’s focus on fun. “The older guys on our team have really just been emphasizing to make sure we’re still having fun. Obviously it’s a business and there is a lot going on right now, but at the end of the day, we’re playing basketball. We should have fun. It kind of takes some of the stress off of our shoulders.”

Other notes from Saturday’s shootaround in Texas:

Okafor is one of several Pelicans who’ve gotten a significantly greater chance to play in recent games than they did early in the 2018-19 season, at least partly due to injuries to Davis, Nikola Mirotic, Julius Randle and E’Twaun Moore. While Okafor is trying to establish himself in the NBA after some excellent moments as a Philadelphia rookie, first-year pros such as Frank Jackson and Kenrich Williams are in new roles at this level they’ve never filled previously. Jackson is in the starting backcourt next to Jrue Holiday with Elfrid Payton sidelined, while Williams established a career high in rebounding, then in scoring, over the past two games.

“I feel like everybody wants to prove you belong here, regardless of what the situation is,” Jackson said. “Our main focus and goal is just to win basketball games. That’s ultimately what we want to do.”

“We just want to come out and play hard,” Williams said. “We know the odds are against us. We’re down almost our whole starting five. We just want to come out, play hard, play together and have fun.” …

A week ago San Antonio came into the Smoothie King Center and piled up 126 points, but New Orleans has been noticeably better on the defensive end in the two games since that matchup. One major area of focus for the Pelicans will be three-point defense, after the Spurs went 11/24 in last weekend’s game.

“They’re the best three-point shooting team in the league,” Jackson said, referring to San Antonio’s 40.9 percent rate from the arc. “Just knowing where (Spurs offensive players) are (on the court), being pulled in, staying active, bouncing around on defense, flying around (are NOLA keys). Knowing who’s on the court. From there, run our game plan.”

DeMar DeRozan sat out the previous matchup, but he is back in the lineup for the Spurs.

“We’ve got to take away the three,” Williams said. “They’re going to have DeRozan back, so that’s going to be a key piece for them. We’ve got to play hard, play together and help each other.” …

Williams on the Pelicans’ effort and hustle impacting a better team defensive performance this week: “That’s a big part of it. We’re helping each other, helping the helper. We’re just trusting each other and playing hard.”

“The last couple games we felt like we played the right way,” Okafor said. “We’ve been playing hard, playing together, playing for one another. Just keep that same mindset and apply that to tonight’s game. San Antonio’s a very good team, especially on their homecourt, but we like the way we’re playing. We’re going to keep doing that.”


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