New Orleans Pelicans want to shake off sluggish first quarters _lowres

Associated Press photo by GERALD HERBERT -- Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton goes to the basket against New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday in the second half of Tuesday at the Smoothie King Center. The Magic won 103-94.

During the first quarter of NBA games, the stands are sparsely filled and those who are settled in, are typically carrying on a conversation or making a drink order.

And while the score matters, the urgency that comes with the fourth quarter typically isn’t present in an arena or on the floor.

But those opening 12 minutes have cost the Pelicans dearly. New Orleans has lost the first quarter by an average of 11 points, surrendering a staggering 35.3 points in the opening 12 minutes of each game.

In two losses to Golden State, the Pelicans rode a significant run to briefly grab a second-quarter lead before the Warriors’ second-half onslaught. And in defeats to Portland and Orlando the first quarter deficits buried the progress made in the second half.

“We have to get off to a start where we are playing even and not playing uphill the rest of the game,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “That just puts so much pressure on you, and then you have to be in the situation where you need a perfect storm to come back when you’re down big. We want to try to keep the game manageable, so when we go on a run it creates separation and doesn’t just get us back in the game.”

Reserve point guard Toney Douglas said part of the issue is the team’s slow pace to start games and the lack of off-ball movement that would open up driving lanes.

“When we are not hitting shots, we can’t let it affect our defense,” Douglas said. “We can always control our defense. On offense, you’ll have some turnovers or miss some shots and you can have a bad night, but you can always stay in the game and grind out a win on defense. That’s our main priority.”

Gentry said more than anything he just wants to see demonstrable effort from the opening tip.

“Playing hard is key,” Gentry said. “We have to get them to the level where they are competing and playing hard, and we can accept anything that happens after that.”

Injury update

With three starters and a key reserve still missing from the lineup, the Pelicans are waiting on signs of progress.

While Tyreke Evans (knee), Norris Cole (ankle) and Quincy Pondexter (knee) all appear to be pushing toward returning to the floor, Gentry declined to give clear timetables on any of their progress.

“We are optimistic because of the work ethic that these guys have had,” Gentry said. “I don’t think anybody has worked harder than Norris, Tyreke and Quincy as far as trying to get back. We just have to be patient.”

On Thursday, Pondexter was seemingly working full speed in one-on-one drills after practice, taking jump shots and driving to the basket against a staff member. But Gentry said Pondexter’s return doesn’t hinge on how he looks or feels but rather a specific timeline laid out by doctors following his cartilage repair surgery in May.

“I know you come in the gym and say he looks good because he’s playing one-on-one, and believe me, I say the same thing and I bet I say it a lot louder,” Gentry said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a time thing, and we can’t rush it. We just have to wait until he’s absolutely sure that he’s ready, because it’s not worth taking a chance on it.”

Still feuding

When the Warriors orchestrated a fourth quarter comeback to beat the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night, Gentry was nowhere near Oracle Arena.

But, he still left an impact.

After the game, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said the game’s most impactful play was one the Warriors got from the Clippers when Gentry moved to Golden State in the 2014 offseason.

“The biggest play of the game was literally our play that Alvin Gentry gave to them,” Rivers said to the Bay Area News Group.

Gentry said he read the comments but deflected any credit he may have played in Golden State’s victory.

“It’s kind of funny, because a lot of plays work there when you’ve got Steph Curry,” Gentry said. “I think you can bring any play there or just draw it in the sand in a sandlot, and some kind of way, he can make it work. It’s just some of the stuff that we did, and we did some of that stuff out in L.A.”