Alvin Gentry wanted Saturday afternoon to feel like a dress rehearsal.
The Pelicans coach even went so far as taking the microphone, stepping on the Smoothie King Center floor and dividing the approximately 6,500 spectators into a “red” side and a “grey” side, trying to build a game-like atmosphere amongst the throng of onlookers, who got their first chance to the see the new-look squad.
The fans, and Gentry’s team, responded.
The noise level rose, matching the Pelicans’ increased pace and ball movement. Under the direction of new assistant coach Chris Finch, it was clear the Pelicans aren’t changing the priorities coach Alvin Gentry has outlined since he arrived in New Orleans two years ago.
The Pelicans played with pace and tried to take advantage of every fast break opportunity, even with a pair of All-Star big men leading the way.
“It’s not a lot different (from last year),” Jrue Holiday said. “I think that it flows a little better, and we want it to flow a lot better. Again, you see DeMarcus (Cousins) and Anthony (Davis) still doing what they do and (Rajon) Rondo showcasing what he does, so it just makes it easy. I’m just trying to shoot and they want me to score, so I was just trying to pull.”
Holiday’s offensive aggression, especially when paired with Rondo, was obvious. Making his first public on-court appearance since signing a 5-year, $125 million extension this offseason, Holiday endlessly pressured the defense, routinely cutting to the basket for layups and converting three 3-pointers as part of an 18-point afternoon.
“I think you’re getting the real Jrue,” Gentry said. “The Jrue that made the All-Star team a few years ago.”
He was joined by DeMarcus Cousins, who showed off his slimmed-down physique, smoothly running up-and-down the court in transition and burying five 3-pointers en route to a team-best 23 points.
Anthony Davis joined in the shooting barrage as well, connecting on his only pair of 3-point attempts before leaving practice with a right shoulder injury, which Gentry said was purely out of precaution.
It was the type of offensive display Gentry has repeatedly said his team was capable of this offseason. The crisp ball movement and open looks kept most of the energetic crowd engaged throughout the nearly two-hour workout.
“I still think we’re a really unselfish team,” Gentry said. “I think guys still try to pass the basketball. I think we’ve got some bigs that can play out on the perimeter. You can see, especially with DeMarcus, because he’s shooting good shots. He’s a terrific 3-point shooter. AD is a terrific 3-point shooter.
“We have a good, good leader in Rondo that can put people in the right spots. You know, there’s a lot of things that are very positive that we can build on."
The Pelicans used a variety of lineup combinations, pairing Holiday and Davis in some rotations and Rondo with Cousins in others.
But the most lethal of the Pelicans lineups came at the start, when Gentry employed shooting guard E’Twaun Moore alongside Davis, Cousins, Holiday and Rondo. While he wouldn’t say it’s a preview of the starting lineup on opening night, it gives credence to the notion the Pelicans are comfortable playing three guards together.
“We were just looking at lineups we may have to play or we may have to play or we may be playing down the stretch,” Gentry said. “Obviously, I like (Moore) with those guys. He and Jrue and Rondo are pretty interchangeable, that’s the other thing that I like about it. All three of those guys have ball-handling skills and can really get you initially into an offense.
“All of those things are really positive. We want to try to have as many players that can play multiple positions as we can.”
Every member of the Pelicans’ healthy roster played on Saturday, except for Dante Cunningham (hip) and Alexis Ajinca (expecting child). Both are expected to return to the Pelicans’ rotation within the week.
“I don’t worry about Dante,” Gentry said. “He’s got a little bit of a hip flexor, I guess is what you call it. He’s fine.”
In his place, the Pelicans inserted Cheick Diallo into several different frontcourt rotations with Davis and Cousins. And the second-year forward provided the day’s most scintillating highlight, converting a game-winning turnaround jumper at the buzzer.
It was a moment that provided Pelicans fans a glimpse into the optimism Gentry has preached throughout the offseason.
“I think we have a really good idea of what we want to do,” Holiday said. “And we’re doing a good job with it so far.”