Anthony Davis put on a show in front of his hometown but it was the reserves who pulled away as the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Chicago Bulls in preseason action. The game, a match-up between rookie head coach (and object of many Pelican fan's heart in May) Fred Hoiberg and Alvin Gentry, promised to be an up-and-down affair between two teams in transition. Out are methodical coaches Tom Thibodeau and Monty Williams, in their place two offensive minds set on pushing the pace. The pace, with 101 possessions each according to NBA Stats, was indeed pushed.
Davis was incredible tonight, having his way with whoever was so unfortunate to attempt to defend him in a Bulls uniform. Frequently Nikola Mirotic was the victim. AD took no time in getting things started by burying a 3-pointer to open the scoring. The Pelicans got Davis the ball all over the floor; at the top of the key, in motion towards the left elbow, and on the low block. He responded by scoring 26 points on 10-16 from the field and 8 rebounds in just 27 minutes. He sat out the fourth quarter entirely, as did nearly all rotation players.
Jrue Holiday was also impressive, logging 11 minutes tonight in the first quarter. He looks quick and sharp on defense while initiating the pace that Gentry wants. It isn't a surprise that the Pelicans played with the highest pace (107!) when Holiday was at the controls. The various injuries suffered recently will make sticking to the minutes limit even more difficult early in the season.
A mention about those injuries. Before the game the Pelicans announced that Norris Cole is out with a high ankle sprain. He joins Omer Asik (calf strain), Alexis Ajinca (hamstring strain), and Quincy Pondexter (knee rehab) in street clothes. Asik might be ready for opening night. Ajinca and Pondexter are both expected to miss a couple weeks of the regular season. High ankle sprains are a nasty bunch and Cole missing a month wouldn't be a shock. Eric Gordon was also held out with back spasms but that he was questionable before tip off leads to me to believe that was more precautionary than necessary.
Eric Gordon could sit out tonight as a precaution because of back spasms, according to Pelicans.— John Reid (@JohnReid64) October 12, 2015
The Pelicans were awful in the second half of the first quarter and the Bulls ran out to a big lead. As Alvin Gentry would mention after the game, New Orleans was trying out some different things and they simply didn't work out. Switching nearly every screen Chicago set the Pelicans repeatedly gave up wide open jump shots and the Bulls couldn't miss. Thankfully New Orleans could still score and went into the locker rooms down just 12 points.
Gentry:"In defense of our players, we tried something in the first half that we'd only been working on a few days." #Pelicans— Scott Prather (@Scott_1420) October 13, 2015
After halftime the Pelicans fell behind quite a bit before clawing back into things and taking the lead by the end of the third quarter. Tyreke Evans was excellent, although he fell in love with his jumper more than I would prefer it was falling tonight. More impressive to me was his ability to finish at the rim through traffic. During the quarter Evans scored 10 of his 18 points on just five shot attempts while chipping in a pair of assists. Dante Cunningham played all 12 minutes and knocked down his first 3-pointer of the preseason. He is far more willing to take those so far under Gentry than he was last season.
The fourth quarter was the Sean Kilpatrick show. I don't believe a roster spot can be won in just one quarter. The coaching staff has far more evidence through practices to make their decisions than we will ever see. However, if it is possible Kilpatrick just did it tonight. He scored 18 points in the quarter (23 overall) on 5-9 shooting with 2 assists and zero turnovers. Importantly the Pelicans as a team did not turn the ball over all quarter, all while Kilpatrick functioned as the lead guard. The former Cincinnati Bearcat exhorted his teammates to push the pace throughout, a key that should not be lost on Gentry.
The remaining bright spot was Ryan Anderson who finally shook off the ice tonight behind the arc knocking down 4-6 attempts. His overall shooting line, 6-18 from the field, is a little deceptive. A number of those "attempts" came in two different sequences when he battled for offensive rebounds. Still, the Pelicans continue to force feed Anderson on the low block and I would prefer he be involved in the offense through other means.
While Anthony Davis was the star of the show tonight Bulls rookie Bobby Portis was a more than capable in a supporting role for the home team. He was simply relentless on the glass which helped the Bulls pile up that big lead earlier in the game. He finished the night with 20 points, 11 rebounds (4 offensive), and knocked down two 3-point attempts for good measure.
The Pelicans also showed a number of flaws tonight, a handful thanks to Portis himself. Without Omer Asik available New Orleans was woeful on the defensive glass, especially in the first half. The Bulls collected 43.5% of their misses in the first 24 minutes, an unfathomable number if Asik was available. Anthony Davis and company got it corrected in the second half, holding Chicago to a more manageable 18.2%.
On the roster battle front there were a couple of shocks. Despite the lack of big man depth Jeff Adrien did not see the floor. Corey Webster was largely invisible logging just under five minutes in the first half and not seeing the court in the second. Kilpatrick, covered above, was amazing. Bryce DeJean-Jones was aggressive, at one point attempting to save a ball he had no reason to and losing possession, but had a few bright moments in the fourth quarter.
Now we come to Chris Douglas-Roberts. He was absolutely awful tonight. Beat on countless backdoor cuts where he got caught up watching the ball. An atrocious turnover at the end of the third quarter that nearly resulted in Chicago points. I really can't think of anything he did well. After he was signed I thought CDR was the favorite to win a roster spot. Now I doubt it.
The Pelicans will have the rest of the week to practice in New Orleans before leaving for Lexington on Friday afternoon. New Orleans will play the Sacramento Kings on Saturday and then have a game every other day (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) to end the preseason. The game against the Kings might be televised. Both the Houston Rockets (Monday, October 19th) and Miami Heat (Friday, October 23rd) will be on TV, although not by Fox Sports New Orleans. For now let's hope for the injuries to stop coming.