New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams likes his team to approach all NBA games the same. That way, there are fewer peaks and valleys, and more consistent play in a marathon of a season.
However, Wednesday against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat at New Orleans Arena has the markings of one of those gauge games, even if it’s still the preseason.
First of all, the Pelicans are 6-0, and although Williams brushes that aside and points out that it’s preseason and his team has a long way to go in grasping his schemes, the record does resonate pride with the players.
It at least tells the Pelicans, with six new players on the roster, that they are understanding and executing to an encouraging degree. At most, it has lent some credence to their belief that they can have an exciting, winning season.
Asked if it would mean anything to finish unbeaten in the preseason, point guard Jrue Holiday said it would mean a lot for a team with six new players, including four in prominent positions.
“Winning is winning,” Holiday said. “And if we go undefeated, that’s the best feeling in the world. … It’s definitely a good feeling, and that’s something that you can carry over and hold on to.”
The Pelicans’ fifth game, against Oklahoma City at Tulsa, Okla., was a curious encounter, coming came against one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
New Orleans won, one game after a blowout of the Atlanta Hawks in which Williams made sure to tell the Pelicans to keep perspective, that they weren’t as good as that 32-point win might indicate.
In that game, the Pelicans turned the ball over 22 times. After keeping the turnovers low against Oklahoma City, New Orleans turned it over 24 times against Washington on Saturday in Lexington, Ky.
“It’s a major concern,” Williams said. “Some of it might be (lack of familiarity), but some of it was just bad plays.”
However, high numbers of turnovers in preseason games have been occurring all over the NBA this year, he said. When the Pelicans’ player rotation is more settled, he expects the turnovers to decrease. However, he’d like to see that happen now, with only this game and Friday’s at Orlando remaining before the curtain goes up on the real deal.
That’s why Miami (4-2), at this point, offers a good gauge. A team seeking a championship three-peat, it wants to be razor sharp when the season begins, too. Its final game is at home Friday against the Brooklyn Nets, who beat the Heat 86-62 on Thursday at Brooklyn.
Knowing, of course, what he already has among his holdovers, Heat coach Eric Spoelstra has been playing newly acquired players such as Roger Mason Jr., who played last season with New Orleans, to see what they have to offer.
However, the Heat are a team founded on defense, and this late in the preseason, it can be expected to ramp it up with opening night right around the bend.
“Even though it’s the preseason, we know who they are, and we respect what they’ve accomplished in a short period of time,” Williams said. “Our players know who they are.”
Williams said he has installed just about all of his schemes and plays, and a three-guard rotation with shot-shooting Anthony Morrow at small forward has been a promising innovation. Much of what remains is for the Pelicans to continue to improve at execution. There are some exceptions. For instance, the zone defense was put in only on Tuesday.
That’s why, even though a team of the Heat’s caliber will usually let an opponent know just where it stands, Williams said one has to keep perspective. It’s going to take 20 games, he said, for the Pelicans, with all their new parts, to begin functioning smoothly.
The game also will be the first in the newly refurbished New Orleans Arena. A good showing Wednesday against the world champs, before an expected large crowd, could add to the buzz around the team, with the jazzed-up arena, new players, nickname, colors and commitment to winning by owner Tom Benson.
This is the only game at the Arena this preseason. The next home game will be the regular-season opener against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, Oct. 30.
There’s another reason why this could be a gauge game with the regular season yet to start. In past games such as those against the Los Angeles Lakers and last season against the Heat when star forward LeBron James took over the game, the crowd’s allegiance often became split or decidedly for the visiting team.
But those were losing New Orleans teams of late. Surely this team would like to show that it’s a new day, indeed, even in an otherwise meaningless game.
The Pelicans will mark Ochsner Breast Cancer Awareness Night on Wednesday. The first 8,000 fans will receive a Pelicans pink wristband courtesy of Ochsner. During the game, the Pelicans will recognize breast cancer survivors, including a special Ochsner Hero presentation.