Pelicans shootaround update presented by HUB International: Defense looks to build on improved second half in San Antonio

by Jim Eichenhofer

OKLAHOMA CITY – After being a step behind San Antonio’s offense for much of the first half Saturday, New Orleans (4-5) looked significantly more aggressive in the second, trapping the Spurs and forcing turnovers. A more frenetic style of defense helped the Pelicans outplay the Spurs for stretches of the final 24 minutes, something they hope can carry over into Monday’s road-trip finale at Oklahoma City (4-4).

“We just picked it up,” said Pelicans forward Wesley Johnson, whose defense was one reason he made his first start of the regular season Saturday.

“Everyone was flying around and covering for each other. I think our intensity picked up. That’s the way we need to start games. We did that in the previous game (in Portland) as well. We need to start the way we finish.”

“When a team scores a lot of points, you get tired of it,” forward E’Twaun Moore said, referring to the Spurs tallying 58 in the first half Saturday. “After a while it was like, you’ve got to wake up. It makes you more aggressive. We’ve got to start all of our games the way we played in the second half in San Antonio.”

The Spurs often picked apart the Pelicans’ defense with pinpoint passing, finding open shooters or cutters for threes and layups. Monday’s opponent generally relies on a different style of offense, with Russell Westbrook and Paul George among the NBA’s most dangerous one-on-one scorers. Oklahoma City ranks No. 25 in the league in assist ratio, with just 53.2 percent of their baskets resulting from assists.

“(One defensive key is) helping one another, regardless of who we’re guarding,” Johnson said. “Flying around, talking, covering for one another. If we do that, I think we’ll be fine.”

Other notes from Monday shootaround at Chesapeake Energy Arena:

Pelicans starting point guard Elfrid Payton has been sidelined for this entire 0-4 trip, after exiting Saturday’s home loss to Utah early with an ankle sprain. Payton appears to be improving physically, however, able to get onto the court after he’d been in a walking boot last week.

“I’m making a lot of progress,” the Gretna native said. “I’m getting better. I don’t want to put a timetable on it, but I’ve been able to do a lot more stuff. The swelling is finally going down, so I’m making progress.”

Payton noted that his short-term goal for returning to play is to “hopefully be back in a week.” …

The Pelicans’ second-half success last season was dependent partly on being a high-assist team, but that has gone away during this recent stretch of five consecutive losses. Johnson on how New Orleans should approach getting back to the style of play that helped generate a 4-0 start to this regular season: “Having fun and not overthinking. If we’re having fun, the ball will move organically. If we do that, we’ll get that pace back to what it was at the beginning of the year.” …

Payton on part of the discussion the Pelicans have had about playing with a faster pace and relying more on fast-break opportunities: “We just talked about getting easy buckets. In the NBA, you’ve got to get easy buckets. It’s hard to score on teams in the halfcourt.”


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