Pelicans shootaround update presented by HUB International: Nikola Mirotic coming off consecutive 20-10 games for first time in NBA career

by Jim Eichenhofer

Just five games into his tenure with the New Orleans Pelicans, forward Nikola Mirotic has already accomplished something he’d never previously done over his four-year NBA career: consecutive nights of 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds. The trade acquisition’s contributions were critical in Saturday’s double-overtime victory at Brooklyn (21 and 16), as well as Monday’s relatively comfortable win in Detroit (21 and 12). In the 11 days since making his New Orleans debut Feb. 3 in Minnesota, Mirotic has appeared to grow increasingly acclimated to his new team.

“He’s the type of player who spaces the floor, gets a lot of rebounds,” said Jrue Holiday after Wednesday’s morning shootaround, as New Orleans prepared to host the Lakers tonight at 7. “I didn’t know he was that tough, so that’s definitely good. In Brooklyn we saw how he can play defense, switching onto a guard, attacking him. I think he fits in with us perfectly.”

“He’s rebounding the ball extremely well,” Rajon Rondo said of his Chicago teammate from last season. “He’s getting a feel, getting comfortable and learning his role.”

After an 18-12 outing in his debut against the Timberwolves, Mirotic didn’t shoot well vs. Utah and at Philadelphia, combining to go 7/23 in those games. However, he bounced back nicely during the latter portion of the Mardi Gras road trip, effectively teaming up with Anthony Davis in several lineup combinations.

“He’s been fitting in very well with us, shooting the ball very well, playing great defense, rebounding the basketball,” said Davis, who’s headed to NBA All-Star festivities for a fifth straight year. “We just find a way to complement each other. He brings a lot to our team. He’s not shy to shoot it. He’s tough. He fits right in for us.” …

Other notes from shootaround at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center:

Holiday noted that three-point defense and rebounding will be vital against the Lakers (23-32, but 12-5 since early January).

“We think they’re very similar to Brooklyn, where they take a lot of threes, a lot of shots in transition, they try to push the pace,” Holiday said. “So we’re going to have to sit down and guard, and rebound. In Brooklyn, they came back in the game because they were knocking down threes and getting extra shots off long rebounds. That will be the biggest key for us.” …

The final game before the All-Star break sometimes has a last-day-of-school feel for NBA teams eager to finally get a hiatus, something the Pelicans may need to guard against Wednesday. Rondo said that losing in the last pre-break game can leave a sour taste in a player’s mouth.

“You want to go into the break with positive thoughts,” Rondo said. “Myself, if you lose, you think about the game and what you could’ve done better. I don’t want to sit on a loss, so hopefully we can get the ‘W,’ take care of the crib (by winning at home) and enjoy this week.” …

Davis explaining what’s been behind the Pelicans’ improvement defensively, after they were very poor immediately after DeMarcus Cousins was sidelined: “Just playing harder, more physical. That’s the way we have to play to get wins. That’s what we’re doing. We have to be defense-first. We’re not that good offensively to where we can just outscore teams. We have to do it with our defense.”