When the New Orleans Pelicans routed the Atlanta Hawks last month in Biloxi, Miss., to remain unbeaten in preseason play, coach Monty Williams was none too impressed.
He went to some lengths to ensure his team kept perspective, telling the Pelicans the performance masked flaws on which the team still had a lot of work to do.
With the Pelicans returning to practice Monday after Saturday’s 21-point home win over the Charlotte Bobcats and a day off Sunday, Williams again was making sure his young team kept perspective.
Posed the question of whether his message was similar to that in Biloxi, Williams, his face cloaked in intensity, said, “You have to ask them about today’s practice.”
Point guard Jrue Holiday said: “It was intense, it was hard, a lot of chatter. That’s not going to stop. He knows how good we can be. He’s going to push us until we get to where we need to be. We all respect him for that, and we’ll work hard to get to that point.”
As the Pelicans (1-2) prepared for Tuesday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns (2-1) at the New Orleans Arena, it was clear that the loss to the Indiana Pacers in Wednesday’s season opener was still fresh on Williams’ mind.
New Orleans gave up 36 fourth-quarter points in losing 95-90.
“We have to get back to working,” he said Monday. “I let guys off the hook last week. We’re getting back to who we are as a team. The atmosphere in our gym has to be a certain level every single day.
“Our normal day has to be more than everybody else’s normal day, because we’re a young team and we have to teach a lot of stuff that a lot of teams don’t have to learn.”
The victory against Charlotte was encouraging because of how the Pelicans maintained their intensity from opening tip to final horn. However, the Bobcats have a history of abject losing and were without post player Al Jefferson, a key free-agent acquisition who was out with a foot injury.
With no low-post threat, the Bobcats drove to the basket, and the Pelicans blocked 18 shots.
As was the case with the Bobcats, the Pelicans on Tuesday night are going against a team in the Suns who have a first-year head coach and didn’t make the playoffs last season.
However, the Suns, predicted to be one of 2013-14’s worst teams, began the season with home wins against Portland and Utah before losing at Oklahoma City on Sunday night. Coach Jeff Hornacek has them playing an up-tempo style to which the Phoenix fans are accustomed, but the Suns have shown they may be able to play at any pace.
“They put an emphasis on playing a bit harder. … At least that’s what I’ve heard,” Williams said. “It’s one of the games where it could be a lot like the Charlotte game: two teams who are young, who play hard. You have to keep your turnovers down and play great defense.”
The Suns have two point guards — Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe — in the starting lineup, and they attempt to put pressure on opponents’ defense with their drives to the basket and overall quickness and ball-handling.
In the opener against the Portland Trail Blazers, Dragic, 6-feet-3, had 26 points and nine assists, and Bledsoe, 6-1, had 22 points, seven rebounds and six assists. In the next game against Utah, Bledsoe, a former Kentucky player who was a backup with the Los Angeles Clippers last season, scored 17 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and hit the winning shot with 0.9 seconds left. Against Oklahoma City on Sunday, he had 26 points and 14 assists.
Dragic left the Oklahoma City game with a sprained ankle and is day-to-day.
“They have tough guards; they’re smaller, really fast,” Holiday said. “Bledsoe is really explosive, and (Dragic) is explosive, too. They have some scoring power.”
Veteran Channing Frye, a good 3-point shooter, is at power forward, and PJ Tucker, a good defensive player, is at small forward. Frye returned this season after missing 2012-13 with an enlarged heart.
The starting center, Miles Plumlee, in his second season from Duke, is a bit of a surprise. Plumlee played so well in the preseason that the Suns traded starter Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards for Emeka Okafor, who played three seasons in New Orleans. Okafor, however, has a herniated disk and has not played this season.
Plumlee, obtained in a trade with the Indiana Pacers for veteran forward Luis Scola, has averaged 10.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots.
“He’s athletic,” Hornacek said. “I don’t think guys think he can block shots, but he does. Then they start altering their shots.”
The Pelicans play their first Southwest Division game of the season Wednesday at the Memphis Grizzlies and return home for Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers. ... Williams said Ryan Anderson’s chip-fractured toe appears to be better. Anderson has been on the court working out but not scrimmaging with teammates. The Pelicans announced Wednesday that Anderson would be out one to three weeks.