Associated Press

Pelicans’ preferred pace presents dilemma vs. Warriors

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) ā€” The Pelicans’ penchant for pushing the pace looks more and more like a quixotic mission to out-Warrior the Warriors.

That’s been the dilemma for Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry as New Orleans has slid into a 3-1 hole in its Western Conference semifinal playoff series against defending champion Golden State.

Although there’d be logic to slowing the game down to limit shooting opportunities for Golden State’s prolific perimeter players, Gentry never saw that option as practical enough to pull off in the playoffs.

“We’re going to play at a fast pace,” Gentry says. “I know some would say, `You’re kind of playing into Golden State’s hands. But this is the way we’ve played the whole season, so we’re not going to all of a sudden try to adjust and do something completely different, because the success we’ve had has been based on playing at a fast pace and being a team that has played the fastest pace in the league.

“We don’t have the ability to all of a sudden change that and become a walk-it-up-the-court team,” Gentry continued. “We’re just going to continue to attack.”

The Pelicans found a measure of vindication in Game 3, when the Warriors had an off night shooting and New Orleans won by 19 points. But in Game 4 on Sunday, the Warriors ramped up their defensive intensity, shot better and beat New Orleans by 20-plus points for the second time in the series. Now Golden State can close out the series at home in Game 5 on Tuesday night.

Even when the Pelicans’ had DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins playing alongside fellow All-Star big man Anthony Davis in a lineup that revolved around that imposing front-court tandem, New Orleans played relatively fast. They averaged 101.5 possessions per 48 minutes, which ranked sixth in the NBA.

After Cousins went out for the season with a left Achilles tear in late January, the Pelicans picked up the pace even more. During their final 34 games, they averaged 104.5 possessions per 48 minutes – a faster pace of play than any other team during that span.

If Cousins remained healthy, slowing the pace somewhat, and punishing the smaller lineups the Warriors use to greatest effect, would be a more realistic option for New Orleans. But Cousins is not expected back on the court until after next season begins. And whether he’s still with the Pelicans remains to be seen; New Orleans wants him back, but he’ll be a free agent this summer.

The Pelicans’ current lineup features relatively young, versatile players who move well and can score from various spots on the floor, such as Davis, guard Jrue Holiday and forward Nikola Mirotic. They also have a point guard in Rajon Rondo who thrives when pushing the pace and quickly identifying favorable matchups in transition, or early in possessions.

“After we lost Boogie, we became the No. 1 team in pace and we’re going to continue to be that same team,” Pelicans veteran small forward Solomon Hill said. “For us to change with all the chips on the table would basically be defeating the purpose. If we’re good at something, we’re going to stay with it and if anything, we’re going to try to perfect it.

“If we had Boogie out there, it would be different. We’d slow it down and execute some stuff,” Hill added. “But we’re not going to change for anybody. The way we feel like we can compete at the highest level is to continue to be who we are.”

Gentry has always known what he’s up against in this round of the playoffs. He was a lead assistant coach for Golden State’s 2015 championship team before taking the top job in New Orleans.

During the 2017-18 regular season, the Warriors ranked fifth in pace, averaging 101.9 possessions per 48 minutes, so an up-tempo game was going to take the defending champs out of their comfort zone.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who was Gentry’s boss back in 2015, doesn’t see the Pelicans’ refusal to slow the pace as stubborn. Kerr sees Gentry doing the best he can with the personnel he has.

“You’ve got to do what’s best for your team. You can’t go against your team’s character and change strategy in the playoffs,” Kerr said. “You’ve got to be who you are.”

 

Stephen Curry returns, drops 28 on Pelicans as Warriors take 2-0 series lead

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The New Orleans Pelicans played as good as they could for three-and-a-half quarters. Then, the Golden State Warriors pounced. In a disheartening effort for the underdog Pelicans, the reigning NBA Champions used their sixth and final gear late on Tuesday to grab Game 2, 121-116, to push the series 2-0 in their favor as they head back to Louisiana for Game 3.

It was the fastbreak that kept the Pelicans in the game in the first half. Golden State put the clamps on New Orleans at the 3-point line, forcing the visiting squad to shoot a combined 20 percent from beyond the arc in the first two periods. The Pelicans got out in transition, scoring 20 of their 55 first half points while running the floor, led by Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday.

For the Warriors, the story was about the return of Stephen Curry, who had 12 points off the bench in the first half alone. As a team, Golden State struggled from the 3-point line but tight passing and huge contributions from Draymond Green and Kevin Durant helped the Warriors shoulder the battering from New Orleans. Inauspiciously, Klay Thompson hit a banked 3-pointer to close the second quarter and Golden State took a 58-55 lead into the half.

Meanwhile, things started to heat up between the two sides.

That competitive fire continued in the third quarter. During one 15-second stretch late in the period, Solomon Hill was given a Flagrant 1 for a hack on Andre Iguodala and Davis and Green were whistled for a double-personal foul. Things didn’t go too far, and both sides pulled back for their own benefit.

Green opened the fourth quarter with two straight threes, setting the tone for the rest of the final period. New Orleans was able to keep it close until an Iguodala dunk with 6:41 left. Then, the Warriors took off. Golden State unleashed a barrage, led by Durant who had 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter alone. It wasn’t until 90 seconds left that the Pelicans mounted any kind of resistance, but by then it was too late.

Davis led the way for New Orleans, scoring 25 points to go with 15 rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Rajon Rondo had a double-double of 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds, and five steals. Holiday added 24 points to go along with eight rebounds and eight assists. The Pelicans dominated Golden State in transition scoring (+15) and points in the paint (+28).

For the Warriors it was not just Durant’s contributions but Curry’s as well. The star point guard had 28 points, seven rebounds, three steals, and two assists in 27 minutes of work off the bench. Green scored 20 points, going seven-of-11 from the field while coming up one rebound shy of a triple-double.

New Orleans played well, and if they had been more consistent from 3-point range it’s possible they could have taken Game 2. But the Warriors are a good defensive team, and no doubt Steve Kerr has scouted them well. Taking away the weapon they used to decimate the Portland Trail Blazers — the arc — was no accident, and that New Orleans played near their peak but still came up short is a testament to the pure power of the Warriors.

Game 3 is in New Orleans on Friday, May 4.

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbedĀ  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory ā€“ which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent ā€“ the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday ā€“ could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward ā€“ not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans ā€“ Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) ā€“ each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents ā€“ like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.

Pelicans’ Tony Allen out 3-4 weeks with fibula fracture

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The injuries just keep hitting the Pelicans. Guys like Solomon Hill and Alexis Ajinca are out for extended periods of time. Anthony Davis has missed four of the team’s last six games and is questionable for Wednesday night due to aĀ left adductor injury.

Now comes the news that reserve guard Tony Allen will be out three to four weeks due to aĀ nondisplaced left proximal fibula fracture, the team announced Tuesday. This is the part of the bone near the ankle.

Allen has played a limited role for New Orleans off the bench this season, averaging 12.4 minutes a game, and averaging 4.7 points. His reputation is that of a defensive stopper, and when he is on the court this season the Pelicans’ defense has been 5.6 points per 100 possessions better. However, father time has started to catch up with him and he is not the defender he once was.

Expect the minutes to bump up for Jrue Holiday and E'Twaun Moore with this injury, which is not a bad thing as they have played well (they were knocking down threes against the Rockets Monday like they were named Curry), plus Ian Clark could get a little more run.

Pelicans release veteran forward Josh Smith

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The Pelicans were desperate. They had lost Solomon Hill, Omer Asik, and Alexis Ajinca, Rajon Rondo and Frank Jackson to injury. The league granted New Orleans a hardship waiver to add another body to the roster, and needingĀ help mostly up front the Pelicans signed Josh Smith.

But the plan was never to keep him long term, and on Friday Smith was let go after just 14 days with the team, reported Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Smith, 31, played just 12 minutes total across three games inĀ garbage time forĀ NewĀ Orleans (shooting 1-of-4). He wasĀ hoping toĀ prove to teamsĀ that he still has somethingĀ left in the tank andĀ he would land another gig. I’m not sureĀ he did that, but other teams may callĀ coach Alvin Gentry and GM Dell Demps and ask as injuries eventually pile up for other teams.