Pelicans shootaround update presented by HUB International: New Orleans players excited about being at full strength soon

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

MINNEAPOLIS – New Orleans wing E’Twaun Moore is questionable to play in Saturday’s game due to a left quad contusion, but if Moore can return to action, the Pelicans will finally be at full strength health-wise for the first time since October. Elfrid Payton has been back in the lineup since Dec. 31; Nikola Mirotic returned Wednesday vs. Cleveland, both after extended injury absences. The prospect of having every key contributor together is an exciting one for New Orleans (20-22), particularly given the team’s 9-2 record when Payton has been in uniform, including three straight wins over the past week. The Pelicans began the campaign 4-0, the last time all of their vital roster members played all at once.

“It’s great,” said guard Frank Jackson, who’s coming off two of the best games of his rookie NBA season in home wins over Memphis and Cleveland. “We had a rhythm going, and then guys got hurt, and it messed with that (rhythm). When we have everybody, we’re just as good as any team in this league.”

“It will be pretty cool, pretty exciting,” Moore said. “It’s been a while since we had our whole team. We need everybody to win, especially in this West. It’s so tough, and every game is important. This is a good road trip for us, and we need to get some big wins. It would be huge to have everybody (available).”

“I’m excited,” Payton echoed. “I know what this team was when we were fully healthy. So I’m excited to get that team back, get through this trip and get our rhythm back. It’s not going to be there at the very beginning, but once time goes on, we’ll start rolling like we did at the beginning of this year.”

Other notes from shootaround in the Target Center:

Moore will make a decision on his playing status prior to tip-off. “I want to play tonight,” he said. “I felt good this morning in shootaround; we’ll see how I feel tonight. If I feel well before the game, I’ll be a go.” …

New Orleans has put up astronomical offensive numbers when Payton has played this season, including averaging 129.0 points during a current three-game win streak.

“Elfrid’s been huge,” Jackson said of the Gretna native’s impact. “We saw that early in the season, but then unfortunately he went down (with an ankle injury). He’s the point guard of our team. He pushes the ball, finds people in tough spots. He runs our team really well. He’s been doing a great job.”

Moore on how Payton impacts the Pelicans: “Just his style, his edge. Him getting downhill just makes it a lot easier for us. On defense, he’s pretty scrappy and can rebound. He brings a different change of pace to the game.” …

As Jackson spoke to media after shootaround this morning, a smiling Mirotic wandered by and pointed to Jackson, saying, “Don’t touch him – he’s hot.”

Jackson seems to be hitting his stride midway through his first pro season, after he missed all of 2017-18 due to foot surgery.

“He’s been aggressive,” Moore said. “Not thinking, just playing. He’ll be big for us.”

Jackson’s efficiency has been outstanding this week, shooting 11/15 from the field vs. the Grizzlies and Cavaliers, highlighted by 7/9 accuracy from three-point range as he broke his career high twice by tallying 17 and 19 points, respectively.

“Halfway through the season now, every day I get more and more comfortable,” Jackson said. “I’m just trying to continue to be myself, stay aggressive and ultimately just play hard. There is so much talent in this league, so when you play hard, you differentiate yourself from other people.”

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