CHICAGO — This team has a new coach and familiar personnel. It’s trying to move from a slower, more structured offense to a quicker pace-and-space style. At times, the adjustment has been a struggle.
And no, this team is not the New Orleans Pelicans.
It turns out that many of the same issues the Pelicans have faced this season in shifting styles under Alvin Gentry have plagued the Chicago Bulls — who hosted New Orleans on Saturday at the United Center — and first-year coach Fred Hoiberg.
“I understand when there’s change that it takes time to get everything in and to get the habits where you want them,” Hoiberg said before Saturday’s game. “Hopefully as we continue to stress it and work on, it’ll get better.”
Gentry has expressed similar sentiments this season. And like the Bulls, the Pelicans have said that there are times when the finer points of the offense — pushing the ball in transition, moving it via the pass and not letting it stick in one player’s hands — look great in practice but don’t quite translate to game time.
The big difference between the two? The Bulls entered Saturday’s game with a 12-8 record. The Pelicans were 6-16.
And the key has been that Chicago has had one reliable facet of its game that has eluded New Orleans.
“I like the way we’re defending,” Hoiberg said. “It’s been the one thing that’s been a constant all nights but a couple, and it’s the reason that we’ve won some games of late. If we can continue that effort on the defensive end and continue to work on the offense and get better, I think we’ll improve.”
The Bulls and Pelicans are eighth and ninth in the NBA in pace. Chicago entered Saturday’s game averaging 99.9 possessions per 48 minutes, New Orleans 99.8.
But while the Bulls ranked 28th in the league in offensive efficiency and the Pelicans 16th, Chicago came into Saturday’s game third in defensive rating. New Orleans was last.
“I think (Hoiberg) will be the first to tell you if you can guard the ball and be good defensively… it allows you an opportunity on bad nights where your offense is not going well, it allows you to win,” Gentry said. “You just have to be able to guard the ball and do things, and the offense you can work on and it’ll get better.”
Point guard Jrue Holiday — still restricted from playing in back-to-back games as he recovers from a stress reaction in his right leg — missed Saturday’s game after playing in Friday’s win against Washington.
Gentry noted that this will be the last trip on which Holiday will be barred from playing back-to-back nights. That restriction is due to be lifted in January, and the Pelicans don’t play back-to-back road games the rest of this month.
New Orleans has one more back-to-back this month, with a game at Miami on Christmas and a home game against Houston on Dec. 26.
Holiday has come off the bench in the Pelicans’ past three games, averaging 15.3 points and 5.7 assists in those games. Holiday is 7-for-11 from 3-point range in that span.
“I think he’s been really good,” Gentry said. “Actually he’s been pretty consistent in what we want offensively.”
Forward Ryan Anderson missed his second straight game Saturday with a stomach illness.
Anderson did not make the trip to Chicago. He’s scheduled to join the team in Portland.