The New Orleans Pelicans had an open-floor meeting Thursday, one day after a humbling loss to the battle-tested Oklahoma City Thunder.
The meeting was prompted by Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook’s being unstoppable in scoring 45 points and the Pelicans (26-23) having to play the Thunder (25-24) again on Friday, this time in Oklahoma City, with the teams fighting to stay in contention for a Western Conference playoff berth.
Having lost to a team that played with a heightened sense of urgency, the Pelicans know they have to increase theirs.
“(The players) even said it in our meeting this morning,” coach Monty Williams said. “We all talked. They said some things that made a lot of sense. I listened to them for a while … and some of the things that they said were things we were going to talk about.
“We all know what we have to do to get a win (Friday night).”
No. 1 would be stopping Westbrook, who made 18 of 31 shots. With Pelicans starting point guard Jrue Holiday in the lineup, Westbrook was held to 34.0 percent shooting in two losses to New Orleans in December. Holiday stayed with Westbrook all the way to the rim on drives, blocking his layup attempt twice.
“I just stayed in front of him,” Holiday said after the Pelicans’ Dec. 2 win at the Smoothie King Center.
Holiday was effective because of his strength and tenacity in fighting over screens set by Oklahoma City’s big men in an attempt to free Westbrook. Holiday, however, has been out since Jan. 14 with a stress reaction in his right lower leg.
Eric Gordon, who mostly guarded Westbrook in Wednesday night’s loss, was not able to fight over the screens as well, and often found himself trailing Westbrook, who is very fast and a quick leaper. Going under screens won’t work because he’s a good shooter with range.
When the Pelicans tried the 6-foot-6 Quincy Pondexter, he had to play off Westbrook or watch him drive past him.
That all opened up pull-up jump shots. And, when center Omer Asik tried to come over to help, center Steven Adams and power forward Serge Ibaka, the screen-setters, rolled to the basket for dunks and put-backs.
That, and tough OKC defense down the stretch, enabled what Williams called “a desperate team” to get a crucial win.
It began before the game, however. With the teams playing twice in a three-day span and with what is at stake, the Thunder was in playoff mode, drawing from being in the postseason the past five years. Now, they have a chance to pull even with the Pelicans for the ninth spot and put in their sights eighth-place Phoenix, who played at tough Portland on Thursday.
“It’s a little like a playoff series, where you play a team, then go home and look at the film, maybe make a couple of adjustments,” Adams said. “There’s a little more preparation than you’d have in a regular-season game because you know it’s another big one.”
Pondexter, one of only three Pelicans to have experienced the playoffs, said these two games are a good learning experience. The Pelicans made corrections that give them a chance to win, he and Williams said.
After the game, Gordon suggested mixing up the defense. Tyreke Evans said double-teaming the ball and getting it out of Westbrook’s hands might work. Asik said Wednesday that getting back on the fast break and taking that away is the answer. To Williams, making more shots would help, allowing the Pelicans to set their defense more.
New Orleans had played well and won against good teams during its six-game streak. This was different, though, with the Thunder too familiar with the feeling of win or go home.
“I think a lot of the guys haven’t been in the playoffs or in pressure situations like that,” Pondexter said. “Oklahoma City came out and swung first, last and just battled.
“We don’t have our heads down. I think we’re excited and anxious to do what they did (Wednesday night) to us.”
The Pelicans turn right around and play the Chicago Bulls on Saturday in a road-home back-to-back. The Bulls, tied with Cleveland for first place in the Central Division and for the fourth spot in the East, also boast a game-breaking point guard in Derrick Rose, who has as his back-court mate All-Star Jimmy Butler.
Davis a shooting star
The NBA announced Thursday that Pelicans forward Anthony Davis has been named a participant in the Degree Shooting Stars competition at State Farm All-Star Saturday Night on Feb. 14 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Davis will be joined by fellow NBA All-Stars Stephen Curry of Golden State, Chris Bosh of Miami and Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City. TNT will exclusively televise the event, which features four teams composed of one current NBA player, one current WNBA player and an NBA legend competing in a two-round, timed shooting competition.