Pelicans buoyed by play of guards

Holiday, Gordon boosting New Orleans offense

The New Orleans Pelicans embarked on their current five-game, challenging Western Conference road trip feeling encouraged they could compete.

Much of that is due to the recent play of starting guards Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon.

“We have been playing better offensively since the East road trip, and the play of our guards have had a lot to do with that,” said forward Ryan Anderson, who included reserve Tyreke Evans. “They’re scoring, passing the ball. Mostly, they have been very effective attacking the rim.”

Heading into the road trip, Holiday had averaged 20 points on 52 percent shooting and 9.9 assists in his past five games, including 20 points, 12 assists and zero turnovers in Friday’s victory against Memphis. Gordon averaged 18.6 points on 48.6 percent shooting in the five games before the trip began, including 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting against Memphis, going against one of the NBA’s best defensive guards in Tony Allen.

Against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday to start the road trip, Holiday was held to 12 points on 6-of-13 shooting, with seven assists. Gordon had 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting with six assists.

The next two games — Tuesday night at the Golden State Warriors and Wednesday at the Los Angeles Clippers — will be supreme tests, featuring backcourt tandems of Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson and Chris Paul-Jamal Crawford.

“(Holiday-Gordon) have been playing well, but they haven’t even scratched the surface of what they can become as a tandem,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “(Against Memphis) was a glimpse of what they can do. … I think those two can become so much better when they learn to play off each other.”

With both able to drive to the basket well and carry the team for stretches, it can set up opportunities for each to get open shots when the other is in attack mode.

Holiday came to New Orleans as an All-Star who could score and defend but with a penchant for turning the ball over. However, in the past 14 games, he’s had five turnovers twice and four twice, but otherwise has kept them to an acceptable amount, given his number of assists and his scoring.

“I haven’t been making careless turnovers,” Holiday said. “I watched film, and there were a couple of careless ones, which is gnawing and nagging.”

Gordon at times has been reduced to a decoy, in Williams’ words, because of opponents’ focus in stopping him.

However, Gordon has picked up the slack of late, mostly with his drives. To him, it has been out of necessity and an opportunity that has presented itself.

“You just have to step up and take the lead, take charge of the scoring,” Gordon said. “We don’t have a lot of options now with (guard/forward) Tyreke (Evans) out.

“I’m up for the task in leading this team in scoring. Scoring is what we need right now.”

Evans re-injured his sprained left ankle against Memphis and is out.

Against Curry and Thompson, Holiday and Gordon will have a tough task, particularly with Evans unable to lend a hand.

Curry (23.9 points) and Thompson (20.3) are the highest-scoring backcourt in the league, and they rank second and first, respectively, in 3-pointers made after setting a record in that category last season. And Curry is averaging 9.0 assists, which ranks third.

In the first meeting between the teams, a 102-101 Warriors win Nov. 26, Thompson scored 22 and Curry 16, and they were held to a combined 15-of-38 shooting. Gordon missed a 3-point try with two seconds left.

Wednesday’s game will be the Pelicans’ first this season against the Clippers, who lead the Pacific Division, and Paul, who is averaging 19.7 points and a league-high 11.5 assists. Crawford (16.0) is replacing injured J.J. Redick as the starting shooting guard. However, he has been one of the league’s top sixth men during his career and his capable of scoring in bunches.

The Clippers hosted San Antonio on Monday.

In Saturday’s game at Washington, Paul had 38 points on 11-of-14 shooting (78.6 percent) and 12 assists, becoming only the second player in the past 40 years to accomplish those totals with that type of shooting.