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NBA Preseason Preview: New Orleans Pelicans look to rebound on second night of back-to-back against Trae Young and Atlanta Hawks

The Pelicans could rest their stars in a meaningless game, but fans should be treated to plenty of shine from Elfrid Payton and possibly Trevon Bluiett.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans fell short in a track meet against the Chicago Bulls last night, 128-116, but rest will have to wait as the team faces another up-and-coming Eastern Conference team in the Atlanta Hawks on Monday evening.

The biggest takeaway from the loss in the preseason opener? The frenetic pace that was promised on Media Day. Fans have come to expect a quick-strike offense over the past eight months, but signs yesterday indicated the Pelicans added a few more gears.

Coming off a season in which the team led the league with a 102.72 pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes), the Pelicans finished with a 115.12 pace factor against the Bulls. This is how New Orleans managed to score 116 points despite not shooting the ball particularly well and committing 18 turnovers.

Against the Hawks, the league’s 8th paced offense in 2017-18, things may slow down a little. “If we weren’t doing this press conference right now, I’d probably have these guys doing some defensive drills,’’ Head Coach Lloyd Pierce said Monday. ‘’That’s who I am.’’

Pierce came to Atlanta to build a strict, regimented system based upon defense and fundamentals. An assistant under Brett Brown in Philadelphia, Pierce knows how to overcome arduous rebuilding seasons and focus turning developmental players into NBA stars and solid contributors.

Newly acquired point guard Jeremy Lin is already praising the work being done in Atlanta under his new head coach’s stewardship:

One positive for Pierce is he will have more to work with in Atlanta than he did during much of his time in Philadelphia that saw top lottery selections riding the bench with injuries. He will be working with the third overall pick, and playmaking sensation, Trae Young, in addition to Taurean Prince, Kevin Huerter and John Collins.

If you don’t know John Collins by now, you’re about to find out. The Hawks 19th overall pick from the 2017 Draft tore his way through summer league after an impressive performance last season against Anthony Davis. The Pelicans slipped through the cracks against these pesky Hawks on November 13th, 106-105, due in large part to a defensive performance by Collins that limited AD to 13 points. AD took but seven shots on the night, down from his average of 20, due to Collins’ long frame and springy athleticism.

In his sophomore campaign, Taurean Prince made considerable improvements, scoring 14 points, five rebounds, three assists on 43% and 39% shooting while starting all 82 games. James Herbert of CBS Sports labeled Prince as a breakout candidate for 2018-19.

I never thought Prince would crack 30 points in an NBA game, but he did it four times in the second half of last season, including two 38-point games in mid-March. Of course, the Hawks were thoroughly tanking at that time, and it is unclear what to make of those outbursts when combined with Prince’s general inconsistency and the regression he showed on defense. Theoretically, though, there is now a clear path toward the 24-year-old turning himself into more than a 3-and-D guy. If he can clean up his handle, maintain his 38.5-percent mark from 3-point range and play the sort of defense he did as a rookie, he will earn himself a lot of money.

Kevin Huerter, the Hawks 19th overall pick this season, is built in the mold of former Hawks’ All-Star Kyle Korver and could help to stretch the floor even further next to Prince and Trae Young.

Pelicans fans will also see some familiar faces in recently acquired Jeremy Lin, Vince Carter, Alex Len, as well as Justin Anderson, DeAndre Bembry and Miles Plumlee. Lin is no longer listed on the injury report after bruising his kneecap and will fight hard to earn the starting position over Trae Young.

Omari Spellman (shin), Dewayne Dedmon (ankle) and Daniel Hamilton (shoulder) will likely be held out for the Hawks’ opening matchup of the preseason.

For the Pelicans, Alvin Gentry may seek to safely stow his firepower until Friday night’s matchup with the New York Knicks. Kicking off preseason with a back-to-back is less than ideal and the last thing anyone wants to see is an injury — which appears to have already stricken the roster.

Jahlil Okafor was on his way to posting a solid game against Chicago. Check him out on this spectacular dunk:

And then this rejection:

However, Okafor would limp off with 18 seconds remaining after spraining an ankle. Although his postgame comments didn’t seem to indicate anything frightening, he is going to go through the gambit of tests.

Let’s hope for good news on this front.

In addition to Okafor’s latest injury, the Pelicans could be without Nikola Mirotic (Achilles tendinosis), Alexis Ajinca (quad), and Darius Miller (bicep) as all three were held out of the matchup against the Bulls. Interestingly Jack was held out of Sunday’s game as well. Maybe the team was interested in having a look at Darius Morris or maybe Jack was sat due to his advancing age (34)?

Regardless of who’s available, Monday night’s game will be a test for some guys fighting for regular season minutes, and for others, a place on the 15-man squad. Expect to see high doses of Elfrid Payton who led the Pels’ with 25 minutes, Solomon Hill, Ian Clark, Cheick Diallo, and all of the youngsters battling for future paychecks.

Frank Jackson, on the other hand, is not a given to play. Remember, Dell Demps mentioned in his preseason presser that Jackson may have minor restrictions. Could it mean no back-to-back’s initially on the schedule? Also, don’t be surprised if you don’t see the two superstars. I mean, do you really need to after this?

Let’s Geaux Pels!

For more on Monday’s matchup check out the cast of “The Bird Calls” on their two-part preview of the Bulls and Hawks.