Pelicans shootaround update presented by HUB International: Trio of shooters coming off big game vs. Warriors

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

PORTLAND – They don’t have a catchy nickname – maybe it should be “3M” based on their perimeter-shooting accuracy and last names – but performances like Wednesday’s by the trio of Nikola Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller could bode well for the New Orleans Pelicans during the stretch run of 2018-19. Mirotic’s 29 points (including 6/10 three-point shooting) represented his best offensive game since October; Moore tallied 17 points, the most he’s scored since New Year’s Eve; and Miller shot a confident 3/5 from beyond the arc, continuing a stellar January in which he’s gone 13/28 in that category.

Though New Orleans (21-24) still needs to improve defensively, just 26th in the NBA at that end of the floor, there are a multitude of signs that the Pelicans’ elite, third-ranked offense is about to get even better. It helps greatly that both Mirotic and Moore are back in the lineup after being sidelined by injuries.

“We’ve been playing well offensively,” Anthony Davis said at Friday’s shootaround in Moda Center. “I think we’re starting to get into our rhythm. Guys are playing with a lot of confidence and making shots. That’s all it is. The more we’re able to make threes, it definitely helps our offense, but we don’t want to live by it. We have other ways to score. But it definitely helps our offense.”

Team three-point shooting tends to fluctuate from game to game – the Pelicans shot just 20.8 and 32.0 percent to begin this road trip at Minnesota and the Clippers, respectively – but on Wednesday they tied a franchise record with 19 three-point makes. New Orleans shot 51.4 percent, its fifth-best accuracy in a game during ’18-19. The Pelicans have shot threes roughly 10 percent better when Elfrid Payton plays this season, compared to when he does not.

Other notes from this morning’s shootaround:

Mirotic pointed out what’s become clear in terms of areas where the Pelicans must improve, including overall defense, starting games faster and effectively closing tight contests in fourth quarters.

“Our offense was not the issue,” Mirotic said, before alluding to New Orleans going 12-5 this season when scoring 120-plus points. “There are a lot of games where we score over 120 points, but lose. When we win first quarters, most of the time we win those games, because we set a tone from the beginning (and) we play harder than other teams. That’s what we need to do, start well in games and take pride in defense, trust each other and have better communication. Lately we’ve been watching a lot of film, and I think our defense is improving. This part of the season, we need to start winning.”

New Orleans remains the NBA’s worst defensive team in first quarters, allowing 117.8 points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com. It’s obviously a much smaller sample of minutes, but the Pelicans are significantly better on defense during clutch time (ranked 18th), yet last in offense during those crucial segments of close games. …

Davis on what the Pelicans need to do to improve their transition defense, after Golden State raced to 45 fast-break points Wednesday: “Get back. That’s it. It’s all effort. Everything is effort in transition. (We also need) low turnovers (offensively).” ...

Perhaps the biggest highlight of this decade for New Orleans basketball occurred in April, when the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, the franchise’s first playoff-series victory since ’08. Davis’ scouting report on facing Portland: “Dame (Lillard) and C.J. (McCollum) are the head of the snake. Our guards do a great job of containing those guys. Jrue (Holiday), (Payton), E’Twaun, Tim (Frazier). If we can limit those (Portland guards) and make other guys beat us, we should be fine.” …

Mirotic on the Pelicans trying to hit their stride and be on the upswing for the final 37 games of the regular season: “It’s important for the second unit to be better. This group has only been together for a little bit. Right now, with everyone being healthy, it’s time to step up.”