Kurt Helin

Jrue Holiday set to return to court for Pelicans Friday

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After a rough 0-8 start to the season, the New Orleans Pelicans have won two of their last three and are starting to get on the track. Whether they can get back on the track they wanted — a playoff track — is another question.

This news will help: Jrue Holiday should be back on Friday.

We knew this was coming, and New Orleans GM Dell Demps confirmed it to John Reid of the Times-Picayune on Tuesday.

New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps announced on Tuesday that point guard Jrue Holiday will return to the team on Thursday and is expected to play Friday night against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Holiday has missed the entire season to be with his wife, Lauren, who underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor last month. In September, Lauren gave birth to a healthy six-pound, 4-ounce baby girl.

The good news that Holiday is returning is most importantly good news for his family — they are in a good enough position he can return to the time-consuming grind of his job.

Holiday will be on a minutes limit to start as he plays himself back into game shape. He reportedly has been working out through his time away, but nothing can prepare you for what it takes to play in a game.

Holiday brings the Pelicans a much-needed second shot creator and scoring option besides Anthony Davis. While Davis is averaging 30.7 points and 11.1 rebounds a game, one man can only do so much and he has had less help than other stars like Russell Westbrook or James Harden. Holiday brings assistance, and he allows Tim Frazier — who has started to come into his own as a point guard — to the bench to add depth.

The Pelicans also have Tyreke Evans, who is getting closer to returning.

Swingman Tyreke Evans could be returning to action soon after missing the first 11 games to recover from undergoing three surgeries on his right knee since last May. The Pelicans announced that Evans started on-court work on Tuesday, but there remains no set timetable when he may return.

Russell Westbrook got a technical for kicking Caldwell-Pope in family jewels

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This wasn’t a Draymond-Green style flail. It doesn’t look intentional.

But on the elbow jumper you can see above, Russell Westbrook kicked Kentavious Caldwell-Pope right in the… family jewels. Westbrook got a technical for that. And he didn’t like it.

Westbrook pulled his leg up behind him for balance on the leaner, but that leg caught Caldwell-Pope just right. And if the NBA is going to crack down on body control plays by the shooter — as they should — then this needed to be called and Westbrook given a technical. Nothing more, this isn’t a finable offense, but the call is legit.

Westbrook put up a line of 33/15/8, but his heroics were not enough to save the Thunder from a fourth straight loss.

Three things we learned Monday: Knicks look much better with Porzingis at center

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Honestly, Monday night was not a thrilling, well-executed, “this is how the game should be played” night of basketball. It was more of a “this is why there should only be 60 games in a season” night of basketball. Still, there are things we learned.

1) Knicks look much better when they move Kristaps Porzingis to center, Carmelo Anthony to four. Last summer, Joakim Noah was one of Phil Jackson’s big off-season moves, signing the former Defensive Player of the Year to a four-year, $72 million deal. Noah’s passing and high IQ seemed like a great fit for the triangle offense Jackson insists New York run.

In the second half coach Jeff Hornacek benched Noah — and the Knicks looked dramatically improved.

The Knicks slid Kristaps Porzingis over to center, pushed Carmelo Anthony to the power forward slot (where he played better last season), and added Justin Holiday to the starting lineup. The results were almost instantaneous: Andrew Bogut had to chase Porzingis out to the perimeter, which he doesn’t do well, and it opened up driving lanes for Derrick Rose and allowed Carmelo Anthony to post up smaller players without Bogut stopping him. In the second half Knicks offense improved (they scored at a 90.7 points per 100 possessions pace in the first half, 115.9 in the second), their defense improved (they held Dallas to 35 percent shooting including 4-of-18 from three in the second half), they played much faster (an 81 possession for the game pace in the first half, 97 in the second), Anthony looked comfortable and had 17 points in the third quarter (he shot 1-of-6 in the first half), Holiday had 12 points in the second half, and the Knicks went on a 19-2 third-quarter run that blew the game open and led them to an easy 93-77 win.

The Knicks did most of their second-half damage from the midrange and going 5-of-9 on corner threes in the second half — it wasn’t perfect, but it certainly was better. Also, the Knicks did this against a struggling Dallas team without Dirk Nowitzki or Deron Williams. So we should be careful making big leaps after one half of good play.

Still, this is the lineup most people without the initials PJ wanted to see and it thrived, which begs the questions: Can Hornacek bench the guy Jackson just spent so much money on? Was the Noah signing for four years a mistake?

New York’s next game is Wednesday hosting Andre Drummond and the Pistons — no, Hornacek will not start “small” (Porzingis is 7’3”, he’s not small, it’s more a style thing) against a traditional, dominant center. Hornacek said the starting lineup likely would not change, that the lineup that worked so well will be used more situationally. Okay. But there are a lot of situations where that would be the better lineup. A lot. And the Knicks need to use it.

2) Russell Westbrook may not be able to save Thunder. Once again on Monday, Russell Willson was a force of nature — 33 points, 15 rebounds, and eight assists. That included a vicious dunk.

But the rest of the Thunder were bad. Oklahoma City players not named Westbrook shot 32.8 percent, the team’s defense has been atrocious the past 10 days, and there are serious depth issues. The result on Monday was the Thunder’s fourth straight loss (dropping them to 6-5 on the season).

This team has issues. Steven Adams is not yet a guy who can live up to a $100 million contract (he can grow into it) and they don’t have a floor spacing big who can defend well enough to deserve to start next to him. There are spacing issues and fit questions all over this roster. Which most nights is leaving Russell Westbrook against the world, and that’s a recipe for a .500 team. An entertaining one, but not a real threat. Westbrook signed on for more of this, he’s in, but Sam Presti has some work to do to get a better fitting roster around him.

3) Boston’s defense, late-game execution cost them again, this time in loss to Pelicans. We’ve gone over this before in three things, so we’re not going to beat the dead horse tonight, but Boston went up against one of the worst offenses in the NBA Monday night and allowed 102 points per 100 possessions, and that again cost them the win.

Well, that and some ugly late-game execution. Down one with :24 seconds left the Celtics out of time out play was Avery Bradley pounding the ball for five seconds then trying to hit a 27-footer over Anthony Davis (which he tipped). Fortunately for Boston, the ball went out off the Pelicans so the Celtics called another timeout with :14 seconds left to set up another inbounds play under the basket. The result: A Tim Frazier jumping in front of a Marcus Smart pass for an easy steal. And yet, thanks to a missed free throw, it was a two-point game that Isaiah Thomas layup tied it at 105-105. Just :07 left, no Pelicans’ timeouts, so Frazier pushes the ball up court, stops at the arc, pump-fakes — and Kelly Olynyk leaps into him for the obvious foul. Free throws and ball game Pelicans.

That’s a tough loss for Boston, which needs to get Al Horford and Jae Crowder back because these are the kinds of bad losses that sting.

Anthony Davis scores 25 points, Pelicans down Celtics, 106-105

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis wore a supportive strap on his aching back and still managed to carry the New Orleans Pelicans on his shoulders until scrappy guard Tim Frazier could finish it off with clutch plays on both ends of the court.

Davis had 25 points, 16 rebounds, four steals and two blocks, and the Pelicans won for only the second time in their first 11 games, 106-105 over the Boston Celtics on Monday night.

Frazier made a crucial steal of Marcus Smart‘s inbound pass near New Orleans’ basket with 14 seconds left. He also drew a shooting foul from Kelly Olynyk with 2.5 seconds left, setting up his go-ahead free throw for the final margin.

“He plays big,” Davis said of Frazier, who finished with 10 points. “He went in there with all them trees down there and got that steal. … And then, that was a great job, a high basketball IQ, to draw that foul.”

Langston Galloway scored a season-high 21 points for New Orleans, which began the season with eight straight losses. Fellow reserve Terrence Jones added 15 points and a season-high 10 rebounds.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said his concern coming into the game wasn’t so much what Davis would do, but whether he’d get more of the help he’s been lacking.

“Anthony is going to be Anthony,” said Stevens, whose team limited Davis to 7-of-22 shooting. “You can’t let Langston Galloway go off. Jones has had great games against us for as long as I can remember. … They really hurt us tonight.”

Isaiah Thomas scored 37 for Boston, including a driving scoop that tied the game with 7 seconds left.

Frazier then pushed the ball up the floor and the 7-foot Olynyk picked Frazier up defensively near the perimeter.

“I knew I had a big on me, so I tried to see if I could get him to go, and he went,” Frazier said.

Olynyk said he tried to challenge what initially looked like a shot attempt, and then Frazier “jumped into me and I picked up the foul.”

In part because the Celtics were out of timeouts and unable to advance the ball, they failed to get a decent shot off in the final 2 seconds. Boston’s first inbound attempt from its own baseline deflected off New Orleans along the sideline with a tenth of a second left.

The Celtics then attempted a long pass in hopes of a tip-in, but the inbound hit the rim and Smart’s attempted put-back in a crowd of players was off the mark.

Boston’s Avery Bradley had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Smart scored 15 points, but Bradley said the Celtics didn’t play well and failed to give Thomas help.

“It can’t just be Isaiah,” Bradley said. “It’s got to be other players out there making shots. … Everybody’s upset about it.”

TIP-IN

Celtics: Al Horford missed his seventh straight game because of concussion symptoms and it remains unclear when he’ll return. “I don’t want to put a timetable on it because I think it’s about how he feels day to day,” Stevens said. Stevens added that once the Celtics decided not to play Horford, they got him an early flight back to Boston so he could get more rest.

Pelicans: Rookie shooting guard Buddy Hield made his first start in place of E'Twaun Moore. After tip-off, the Pelicans announced coach Alvin Gentry had decided to give Moore the night off to rest a right big toe injury. … The Pelicans’ win was their first at home, where they improved to 1-5.

BACK PAIN

Davis could be seen lying on the court near the bench when he wasn’t playing and said it was to ease stress on his back.

“Every time I sit down it just tightens up, so that was the best way for me to try to keep it loose,” Davis said. “You’ve got to play through it, fight through and try to do whatever you can do to help your team win.”

SQUANDERED LEAD

New Orleans led by as many as 14 points when Dante Cunningham‘s 3 made it 65-51 in the third quarter, but the Pelicans briefly lost the lead in the final minutes.

“We’ve got to continue to eliminate some of the mental mistakes and putting ourselves in harm’s way,” Gentry said. But Gentry also added that he was pleased his team “hung in and found a way to win.”

 

Pacers top former coach Frank Vogel, Magic 88-69

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — C.J. Miles made four 3-pointers and scored 16 points, and the Pacers spoiled Frank Vogel’s return to Indiana with an 88-69 victory over the Orlando Magic on Monday night.

Vogel coached the Pacers for more than five seasons before he was let go in May. He was quickly scooped up by Orlando, and it looks as if he has plenty of work to do with the Magic.

The crowd cheered when Vogel was introduced before the game. He led the Pacers to back-to-back Eastern Conference finals appearances and compiled a 250-181 record during his tenure in Indiana.

Paul George had 13 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Pacers, who pulled away in the second half. Monta Ellis also scored 13 points, and Jeff Teague finished with 11.

Orlando shot 32 percent from the field. Evan Fournier led the Magic with 14 points on 4-of-15 shooting, and Aaron Gordon had 11.

Indiana led by as many as 21 points during the fourth quarter.

TIP-INS

Magic: Orlando has lost 12 of its last 14 meetings with the Pacers, dating to the 2012-13 season.

Pacers: After scoring in double digits in each of the last four games, Al Jefferson was shut out.