With season winding down, coach Williams wants to experiment
The New Orleans Pelicans trudged back home from a 1-4 road trip with some solace but more hope.
Beginning with Friday night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Pelicans (24-37) play 11 of their next 13 games at Smoothie King Center. And, unlike the road trip, in which there were two sets of back-to-back games, the upcoming home games are spaced out. The next six, for instance, are spread over 14 days.
“It was a long, tough trip,” coach Monty Williams said. “Now, we can practice here, have more time to really look at our game and our team from a breakdown standpoint.
“We don’t have a lot of practice time on the road, especially when you have back-to-backs. It’s good to be back home. We can get a lot of things done here.”
The Pelicans’ losing streak reached a season-high-tying eight before Tuesday’s win at the Los Angeles Lakers. Thursday’s practice at the team’s Airline Drive facility was spent correcting mistakes that were made on the road. However, with 14 of the remaining 21 games at home, the Pelicans’ thoughts were on a the possibility of successful final quarter to the season, they said.
“It’s real important for us to finish strong,” said small forward Tyreke Evans. “Even though our guys are out (injured), just staying focused, finishing out strong and not giving up, that’s important for carryover for next year.”
Already having won their last game, carryover could start now. The Bucks (12-48) are the worst team in the league, and the Pelicans beat them 102-89 on Feb. 12 in Milwaukee.
The Pelicans stand to hold on to their first-round draft pick for this season if their record is among the worst five in the league. However, they still would lose it next season to the Philadelphia 76ers, who obtained it in the Jrue Holiday trade last June.
Like Evans, however, guard Austin Rivers said the team’s improvement, growth and success during these final 21 games is important with regard to next season, and that is reason to continue playing hard and to win. Williams, who still wants to win games, said he does in part look at carryover to next season, and that can entail looking at players in different roles.
“I am myopic most of the time, but I’m also responsible for the future of the team,” he said. “And, some of the things that I’m doing on the floor — putting guys in position to get more experience.
“Just the other day, we had Austin in our end of game defense, against (Lakers point guard Jordan) Famar, and he did a good job. So, there’s part of me that is looking at that.”
He was asked if it was difficult to embrace that feeling.
“Yeah, no question, because I’m always in the mode of kicking and screaming to achieve the things that we want to achieve,” he said. “Until the last game, you’re always preparing like it’s a really big game. And, that’s the way I approach it.”
Evans has been in a different role of late and is flourishing. He had embraced being the team’s sixth man since the start of the season. He was inserted into the starting lineup before the second road game, at Phoenix, though, to give New Orleans more of a scoring punch.
In the six games before replacing defensive-minded Al-Farouq Aminu in the starting lineup, Evans had averaged just 7.3 points on 28.4 percent shooting coming off the bench. In the four games since becoming a starter, however, he has picked up the pace considerably. Evans has averaged 21.8 points on 49.2 percent shooting, along with 7.8 rebounds and 7.0 assists.
“Obviously, it’s a work in progress, but he’s a threat out there,” Williams said, “and anytime he touches the ball, you have to pay attention to him.
“I’m still learning how to coach that group, with (shooting guard) Eric (Gordon), Tyreke and (point guard) Brian (Roberts). All three can handle the ball. The biggest key for that group is spacing and playing off each other.”
The Pelicans’ record against their next five opponents — Milwaukee (1-0), Denver (1-1), Memphis (3-0), Portland (1-1) and Boston (1-0) — is 7-2. … There will be a Pelicans Fest pregame party, starting at 5:30 p.m., featuring free beer plus interactive games and fun for the whole family.
And, the first 10,000 fans who enter the game will receive a Pelicans Dance Team poster.