With four healthy point guards available Tuesday night, the Pelicans finally had some room to improvise.
The return of Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole to the lineup expanded the options for coach Alvin Gentry, who happily embraced the quandary of how to use so many weapons in the backcourt. It started with moving Eric Gordon — one of the few Pelicans to not miss a game this season and a guard who isn’t ball-dominant — to the bench while Evans jumped into the starting lineup alongside Jrue Holiday.
Gentry said he discussed the move with Gordon as an opportunity to boost the second-unit’s scoring. In the first 17 games of the season, Gordon averaged 35.5 minutes per game, the most he’s played since arriving in New Orleans five seasons ago, averaging 17.8 points.
He was also responsible for helping replace the various pieces missing the Pelicans’ guard rotation, including a minutes-restricted (and absent on back-to-backs) Holiday along with the missing Evans and Cole.
“It’s been a little bit unfair to Eric,” Gentry said. “We’ve asked him to play so many minutes and try to do so many things. I think his role will be back to what he’s accustomed to.”
Despite the wealth of guards, Gentry was able to get all five of them on the floor in the first quarter, using a small, shifty, shooting-heavy lineup to rack up a season-high 38 points in the opening period by shooting 70 percent.
Gordon entered first, before being closely followed by Cole, both of whom notched a pair of points. Even Ish Smith checked in during the final minute of the quarter to add two free throws. They were five of nine Pelicans to score in the first quarter.
Despite the overlap in position, Gentry exalted the backcourt’s adaptable skill sets which allow them to play together and separately.
“We have some versatile players,” Gentry said. “Almost every single guy can be a one or a two. Tyreke can even be a three some. We’re just going to have to experiment with it and try to play different combinations of guys and see how it works out.”
The bevy of guards was less of a concern than the struggles of Pelicans centers on Tuesday night.
Gentry tried to shake up the position by inserting Alexis Ajinca into the starting lineup over a healthy Omer Asik for the first time this season.
Ajinca had only played five minutes in the past four games, but chose him over Asik because Gentry said he wanted to “mix it up” and provide some offensive spacing for Anthony Davis.
Regardless, Ajinca didn’t make much of an impact in the early going, getting whistled for three fouls in his first six minutes on the floor. And no matter who was employed at center, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol found a way to score, racking up 22 points in his first nine shots against a variety of defenders.
Anthony Davis personally greeted the crowd in the second quarter. Following a blocked shot, Davis collected the rebound, dribbled behind his back in transition before drawing a foul on an alley-oop attempt. After the foul, he couldn’t stop his momentum without running into the 10th row of the Smoothie King Center. … Memphis made 14 of its 18 shots in the second quarter…The Pelicans only committed one turnover in the first half (when Davis traveled).