Pelicans shootaround update presented by HUB International: New Orleans may benefit from playing even faster while relying on small lineups

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

New Orleans (27-22) has played at the NBA’s sixth-fastest pace this season (101.57 possessions per 48 minutes, via NBA.com), but over the final 30-plus games, the Pelicans’ tempo may increase even further. With DeMarcus Cousins sidelined for the remainder of 2017-18, Dante Cunningham moved into the starting lineup Sunday at power forward vs. the Clippers, while Anthony Davis slid over to center. Cousins’ absence also means a likely domino effect for the bench, with players such as Darius Miller potentially seeing more minutes at power forward, instead of a wing position.

“I’d say we will try to run more, especially if we have small lineups on the floor like we did against the Clippers,” New Orleans reserve guard Ian Clark said after Tuesday’s shootaround, when asked if the Pelicans might try to slow down sans Cousins. “If you put Dante at the four and AD at the five, or however Coach (Alvin Gentry) wants to do the lineup, at some point we’re going to have three smalls out on the floor. Being able to run the ball in transition and try to attack before the defense can set up, I think would be big for us.”

In Sunday’s initial game without Cousins, the Pelicans already picked up the pace somewhat, at 104.46 possessions per 48 minutes, as measured by NBA.com. It may be interesting to watch the tempo of Tuesday’s matchup vs. Sacramento (15-34), because despite the Kings’ roster being filled with young players, they are the league’s fifth-slowest club (97.06). That has changed somewhat in January (16th in pace at 98.96), however, partly due to speedy rookie point guard De’Aaron Fox moving into a larger role this month. …

When a team loses, media and fans tend to dwell on what went wrong offensively, but Clark noted that defense was a better indicator of why Sunday’s momentum swung in Los Angeles’ favor in the second half.

“A lot of people harped on the offensive end, but it was more on our defense,” Clark said. “We came out in the first half and showed the way we wanted to guard them, and we didn’t do it in the second half. It doesn’t matter if shots are falling or not, we can still play hard on the defensive end.”

New Orleans led 62-51 at halftime, but was outscored 61-41 after intermission. Now that the are Pelicans playing without a top-10 scorer the rest of the way, they’ll need their defense to hold opponents in check in order to give themselves an optimum chance to win. …

E’Twaun Moore on some of what New Orleans must do to help make up for Cousins being unavailable: “We’ve all just got to pull together and step up, play a little harder. We have to make extra-effort plays, drive a little harder to the rim to make up for those fouls (that Cousins would draw from opponents).”

New Orleans ranks No. 14 in the NBA in free-throw attempts per game (22.7), but a large chunk of those were produced by Cousins. In fact, the Pelicans are the most top-heavy team in the league in terms of getting to the charity stripe, with Cousins and Davis ranking third and fourth, respectively, in shots per game. Cousins averaged 8.2 trips to the foul line this season, just ahead of Davis’ average of 8.0.