The last time the New Orleans Pelicans won a regular season home opener was at the start of the 2014-15 season. You remember that campaign right? At that time, Anthony Davis lacked facial hair, and Jrue Holiday had a very similar look to AD’s current haircut of today —- that’s a far cry from the “Kung Fu Jrue” look Holiday is sporting currently with a martial arts style bandanna.
Outside of hair style changes, the roster was much different. The stretch four was Ryan Anderson instead of Nikola Mirotic. The new prized front court addition was Omer Asik, not Julius Randle. The head coach, Monty Williams, believed in a lethargic pace and most fans were busy complaining about Austin Rivers.
Whew, does that cover it?
The reason that year is important to us today is because that’s the only season the Pelicans have won a home opener during the Anthony Davis era. Injuries, slow starts, or tough opponents played a part in other outcomes, but even the most tightly contested games ended in defeat. Heading into Friday evening’s game though, the status quo feels ready to change.
No matter the assumption about Sacramento, the Kings will not be a doormat. They battled a tough Utah Jazz team all night — even looking like they may pull out a surprising victory. They produced 117 points on a Jazz defense that only allowed 14 of their final 41 opponents last season to top the 100-point barrier. The Kings displayed good balance, as every member of their starting lineup scored in double figures in Wednesday’s loss.
For the Pelicans, the story probably hasn’t changed much since Wednesday’s shocking bullying of the Houston Rockets. Optimism should remain high as NOLA defeated Houston both physically and mentally from the opening tip. Defensively, they went into Portland Trail Blazers playoff series mode and dared any one not named James Harden or Chris Paul to beat them.
Offensively, New Orleans took advantage of their size, pushed and moved the basketball, and were routinely in favorable positions to score. But unlike in past seasons, this wasn’t a one or two-man show. Every member of the Pelicans starting lineup had a story of success. Off the bench came the bulldozing pitbull Julius Randle, who continues to show he has some refined finesse to go along with his brute attacking style and strength.
To defeat Sacramento, a similar performance may be needed as young energy is unpredictable — and the Kings have lots of it. Now that we’ve gotten that squared away, here are a few things to keep your eyes on in Friday night’s matchup.
Will old habits die hard?
It’s not hard to sit down and contemplate if the Pelicans will come out with the same focus and intensity that they showed Wednesday. If you’ve followed the team regularly, you’d know that primetime television against good teams normally brings the best out of New Orleans in recent history. It’s the games against the more lowly teams, the games “you’re supposed to win” that have caused them trouble time to time, especially last season.
In fact, a December 8th overtime loss against a similar but banged up Kings team last season should immediately come to mind. The great teams, however, are able to maintain focus and fire no matter the opponent more times than not.
The Pels proved late last season they were a “good” team, but this latest version has ambitions to be great, stating that fact in a plethora of forms for months. From the individual goals preached, to the expectations set, one small step contained within is to win games against teams like Sacramento.
Will a deeper bench commence?
Whether premeditated or freestyled, for a majority of the win against Houston only eight Pelicans players logged minutes. Those players being the starters plus Julius Randle, Darius Miller, and Solomon Hill, who all played at least 12 minutes.
While no one seemed to need an IV and the results backed up the decision, an eight-man rotation won’t last any team over an 82-game schedule. Head Coach Alvin Gentry has been big on letting the nightly matchup make his decisions versus sticking to a more predictable method. And he, without a doubt, will acclimate others into the fold as he’s mentioned in the past of wanting to monitor Davis and Holiday’s minutes.
But it will be interesting to watch who Gentry soon takes a liking to off the bench as we move forward. Will Wesley Johnson or Tim Frazier play immediately? Will Frank Jackson be thrown into the fire or Ian Clark reclaim his former role? What about Okafor or the struggling Diallo? Keep an eye on the situation for any sneak peaks throughout the game.
Anthony Davis, the Point Forward?
One key element of the Pelicans’ victory on Wednesday was the passing of Anthony Davis. Let me start by saying I know the Rockets’ defense was terrible. But eight assists from Davis is huge for a few reasons.
The first one being the way that some of the passes formed. Blind double teams in the post used to be a nightmare for Davis, often resulting in a turnover if he didn’t make the simple pass back out to the perimeter. Against the Rockets, however, The Brow took his time, felt out the defense, and threw passes under pressure with a clock in his head like Drew Brees.
It surely helped that recipients were widely open, but regardless of what Maurice Jones-Drew thinks — hitting the open man is the only true responsibility of the player distributing.
If Davis has improved his ability to make others around him better, he truly may have unlocked almost every trait naturally given to him. And that could be the scariest factor of all when thinking about how far he and this Pelicans team can go this season.
New Orleans has an opportunity to deliver for a group of fans that may finally be ready to invest in it’s basketball franchise on a full-time basis. Home openers are a big part of that magic. After a big season opening win, another dominant performance can go a long way for those ready to push their chips into the center of the table.
No matter how young and energetic the Kings are, most are right to expect for the Pelicans to emerge with a victory. And they’ll want to see it done in a way they can emphatically enjoy for their first regular season visit to the Stephen A. Smith hated Smoothie King Center. You know how it goes: First impressions are everything.
What: New Orleans Pelicans vs Sacramento Kings
Where: Smoothie King Center
When: Friday, October 19, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, 99.5 FM WRNO