Pelicans shootaround update presented by HUB International: Spurs present unique defensive challenge

by Jim Eichenhofer

New Orleans’ two opponents on a pre-Thanksgiving homestand couldn’t be more different in terms of their offensive gameplan – Oklahoma City relies on three All-Stars who can break down a defense by themselves, while San Antonio’s collective approach has resulted in a quality start to 2017-18, despite the absence of All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard and key cog Tony Parker.

As the Pelicans (9-8) prepared to host the Spurs (11-6), New Orleans players acknowledged that defending San Antonio requires significant concentration and discipline. The Spurs are known for their ball movement, which sometimes finds cracks in the opposition after numerous passes.

“The Spurs are going to get their best shot available,” New Orleans guard Jameer Nelson said after shootaround in the Ochsner Sports Performance Center. “If it takes 24 seconds, they’re going to do that. We have to be locked in as long as we can in a 48-minute game. No matter who’s out there (for San Antonio), the system is the system. They’re going to play the same way – guys are going to help each other get good shots, and (the same help concept applies) defensively as well.”

“The biggest thing is playing out the shot clock,” Jrue Holiday said of facing the Spurs. “They get a lot of second-chance possessions. With them, even if they’re down 10 points with two minutes left, they’re liable to come back. You have to play out the shot clock – all 24 seconds – then grab the rebound. (Another key is) don’t beat ourselves offensively – no turnovers, and at the end of the game, down the stretch, make good plays.”

Other notes from shootaround in Metairie:

New Orleans went through a two-game span in which it was blitzed by Toronto and Denver at the defensive end, but bounced back with a quality showing against Oklahoma City on Monday. The Pelicans held Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony to combined 13/38 shooting from the field, poor efficiency New Orleans would probably take every time when facing those two scorers. Paul George was 9/17, but did a big chunk of his damage early when the Thunder raced to a 25-6 first-quarter lead.

“We talked about that game being a big ‘help’ game, building a wall, especially when Russ (Westbrook) was in transition,” Nelson said. “For the most part, we did that. They didn’t have a lot of open shots. Even the shots they made were tough, contested. We’ve got to build off that and continue to trust one another.” …

New Orleans’ bench turned in perhaps its most valuable performance of 2017-18 against Oklahoma City. Although there are still some tweaks being made to the rotation, such as Dante Cunningham and E’Twaun Moore swapping roles Monday vs. the Thunder, Pelicans reserves seem to be developing chemistry and a better feel for what the team needs from them.

“It is big to have a rotation,” Nelson said of there being less shuffling lately. “We have that for the most part. Since I’ve been here (in late October), guys have been in and out of the lineup. As a basketball player, you want to know your role. Everyone is starting to feel like they’re knowing their role a little bit more.”