Why can’t the Pelicans foul in a timely manner?

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Stephen Curry hit THE shot of the playoffs so far, a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of Game 3 against the Pelicans to cap a 20-point comeback.

But why did he even have a chance to attempt it?

Up three, why didn’t New Orleans intentionally foul?

“We were supposed to foul,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “In situations like that, we’ve had that happened to us a couple times, and they shouldn’t have even had that shot take place. We just didn’t execute, and that’s on all of us. But we were supposed to foul.”

Said Anthony Davis: “I don’t know. I thought he made it very clear: We’re supposed to foul. Things happen in the game.”

Quincy Pondexter, who was guarding Curry, has taken the brunt of blame for not fouling. But I’m not sure he ever had a clear opportunity.

When Curry caught the inbound, it appeared he might immediately catch and shoot. The last thing you want to do is foul him while he’s shooting a 3-pointer.

Curry took one dribble, which would have presented a golden opportunity to foul. But Pondexter’s momentum was carrying him the opposite direction, and I’m not sure he could have immediately reached to foul while preventing a shot. By the time Pondexter shifted direction, Curry was actually shooting.

That first attempt missed – which presented the real opportunity to foul.

Marreese Speights grabbed the offensive rebound and took a dribble inside the arc – with his back turned to the basket! Tyreke Evans definitely and Davis probably had an opportunity to foul Speights, who, not for nothing, made 84 percent of his free throws to Curry’s 91 percent this season.

Fouling up three is not the airtight strategy many present it as. A lot can go wrong. Plus, when teams know they must defend just the 3-point arc, they do a pretty great job.

Many factors tilt specific situations – Curry’s 3-point ability chief among them here. His superb free-throw shooting also matters, though. So, a chance to foul Speights – especially after Williams instructed to foul – should have been executed. It wasn’t, and Curry lost Pondexter in the scramble (another problem for another day) and made the game-tying 3-pointer. Ironically, the Pelicans fouled Curry on that attempt, though it wasn’t called.

Troublingly, this was far from New Orleans’ only issue with when to foul in this game.

The Warriors had the ball and the lead in overtime with the game clock and shot clock practically in sync. To any well-trained team, this is an auto-foul situation. But the Pelicans let about 10 precious seconds run off before actually fouling, even as Williams appeared to call for a foul:

Later in the extra period, Davis missed a potential game-tying shot and Golden State got the rebound. Again, this is auto-foul territory. Instead, Davis made a halfhearted effort and then gave up on the play, and Jrue Holiday retreated a half step before going for a foul. That allowed the Warriors to call timeout:

In the clearest must-foul situation of all – and the others were pretty clear – Tyreke Evans squared up to guard Curry for a couple beats before fouling after the ensuing inbound:

Curry made both free throws to ice the game, but had he missed one, every fraction of a second would have helped the Pelicans’ final possession.

This seems to be a systematic problem with several players not understanding when to foul, which points to a coaching issue. Maybe Williams is doing everything he can, but the players aren’t listening. Maybe the coach isn’t drilling these situations often enough. It’s an impossible diagnosis to make from afar.

But if Williams isn’t going anywhere, the Pelicans must handle these instances better. Davis will get them into a lot of big games, and like last night, some of them will be close. New Orleans can’t keep putting itself at a disadvantage down the stretch like this.

Break up the Suns! Phoenix remains perfect in bubble defeating OKC

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points, and the Phoenix Suns rolled past the short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder 128-101 on Monday to remain perfect and improve to 6-0 in the restart and improve their playoff chances.

The Suns have surged in the Western Conference standings. They entered the day just 1 1/2 games behind eighth-place Memphis and a game behind ninth-place Portland in the race to qualify for a spot in the play-in series.

“We haven’t accomplished anything,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “That may sound like coach-speak, but we dug ourselves a hole with our record. We scrapped all year long and won some games, but it’s been an uphill battle.”

Williams appreciates the position the Suns are in.

“We’ve done a good job of getting to this point,” he said. “No one knew we were going to be here, but we’re here and we’re thankful for that.”

Phoenix center Deandre Ayton sat out the first quarter because he missed his coronavirus test on Sunday. He tested negative on Monday and was cleared. He started the second quarter.

“In an NBA season guys are going to make mistakes,” Williams said. “You have to be able to give people grace. It wasn’t intentional. Thankfully he was able to get tested early enough that he was able to come back and play, and the guys received him with open arms because we all understand we’re human.”

With Ayton out, Oklahoma City led 37-23 at the end of the first quarter. After Ayton entered the game, Phoenix dominated the rest of the way. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds in just over 17 minutes.

Oklahoma City was without four of its top five scorers. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (bruised right calf), Danilo Gallinari (left ankle maintenance), Dennis Schroder (birth of child) and Steven Adams (bruised left leg) sat out. Reserve center Nerlens Noel (sprained right ankle) also did not play.

Rookie Darius Bazley had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

The Suns rallied from 15 points down in the second quarter to take a 65-64 lead at halftime. Phoenix opened the second half on an 11-2 run and controlled the game from there.

“I thought their pressure disrupted us,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought we got a little bit stagnant. We made some pretty decent plays. We were able to get some open looks, but I thought there in the second quarter they turned up their defensive intensity and that probably took us out of some rhythm.”

Rumor: Pelicans will soon fire coach Alvin Gentry

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry works for a lead executive – David Griffin – who inherited, rather than chose, Gentry in the first place. Gentry has had just one winning season in five years in New Orleans, and the Pelicans particularly underwhelmed this season.

Connect the dots.

William Guillory of The Athletic:

The worst-kept secret in the NBA is that Gentry’s time with the Pelicans won’t last much longer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Executive VP David Griffin and Pelicans ownership have a decision to make with a year left on Gentry’s contract, sources said. Consider two relationships Griffin has back to his front-office days in Cleveland and Phoenix, respectively, if there’s a change in New Orleans: LA Clippers assistant Ty Lue and Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd, sources said.

Zion Williamson was transcendent at times this season. Brandon Ingram blossomed. Youngsters Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Jaxson Hayes showed flashes. Veterans Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick and Derrick Favors provided reliable depth and versatility.

But New Orleans was never quite as good as the sum of its parts.

Some of that falls on Gentry.

The Pelicans’ defense was often scrambled. An offensive-minded coach, Gentry hasn’t shown he can correct that issue. His lineup decisions rarely maximized the offense, either.

Lue and Kidd are unsurprising candidates. Lue had a great record working for Griffin with the Cavaliers (obligatory LeBron James mention), and Kidd is good at getting his name tied to job searches. Are Lue and Kidd the most likely coaches to replace Gentry? Maybe. Or maybe they’re just the first candidates to emerge publicly. This job search isn’t even officially underway.

But it could be soon.

76ers coach Brett Brown says he expects Joel Embiid (ankle injury) back before playoffs

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Joel Embiid injured his ankle in the 76ers’ loss to the Trail Blazers yesterday.

How serious is it?

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid is out for Tuesday’s game against the Suns with the left ankle injury he sustained in the first quarter Sunday vs. the Blazers. He’ll be undergoing treatment and evaluation at the team’s practice Monday night.

Brett Brown said he expected Embiid to play again before the playoffs, though characterized that view as “just one man’s opinion.”

That sounds like great news for Philadelphia, which is already without Ben Simmons.

Embiid can be dominant. With him, the 76ers still have a chance of advancing in the playoffs. It might even be easier to create space around Embiid – where Embiid can really feast – without Simmons (though the loss of the talented Simmons lowers Philadelphia’s ceiling).

However, the 76ers don’t deserve benefit of the doubt for setting accurate injury timelines, particularly with Embiid. There’s an element of “see it to believe it” here.

J.J. Redick loses NBA’s longest-active individual playoff streak (13 years)

Pelicans guard J.J. Redick
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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As J.J. Redick stared into the distance, he had to see this coming.

Redick will miss the playoffs for the first time in his 14-year career. His Pelicans were eliminated from the postseason race yesterday.

At 13 years, Redick’s playoff streak is tied for the 13th-longest in NBA history. No current player has a longer streak at any point his career. LeBron James also had a 13-year playoff streak (which was snapped last year).

Here are the longest individual postseason streaks in NBA history:

Obviously, some of Redick’s streak was out of his control. He got drafted in 2006 by the Magic, who were rising with Dwight Howard. But Redick’s competitiveness and professionalism made him a steady contributor, and he chose winning situations with the Clippers then 76ers.

But New Orleans was too flawed to make a major leap in this Western Conference.

This clears the way for Bucks wing Kyle Korver to take over the longest active playoff streak. He has played in the last 12 postseasons, and Milwaukee has already clinched a playoff berth.

Here are the longest postseason streaks that could remain active this year.

Players whose teams have already clinched a playoff berth are in blue. Players whose teams are still in the race but haven’t clinched are in gold.

Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs with their current team, that team is listed in brackets: