Alvin Gentry turned 61 on Thursday, but he’s OK with his gift coming a day late.
The Pelicans coach certainly would take it Friday night, when the Atlanta Hawks visit Smoothie King Center.
“I hope that Atlanta’s going to be good and find a way to gift us a present,” Gentry said Thursday.
Gentry was laughing when he said it, and he’s been careful not to lose his sense of humor as his team has struggled to an 0-4 start. The Pelicans still play music at practice. Gentry still cracks jokes. There are some “comical things” added into film sessions — he declined to go into specifics — designed to help keep players relaxed.
“It’s early in the season, man,” guard Toney Douglas said. “It’s November. You’re going to face adversity, but it’s how you handle it. You can’t be down. You got to still come in, get your work done and see where we can improve. The past two days we got better.”
The Pelicans clearly have work to do.
They’re giving up the second-most points in the NBA at 115 per game. They’ve lost four games by an average of 14.3 per game, the second-highest negative margin in the league. They’re 15th in the league in scoring at 100.8 points per game and 25th in field-goal percentage at 40.9 percent.
Their early season climb doesn’t get any easier on Friday against the Hawks, who enter the game 5-1 and ranked fifth in the league in scoring defense, allowing 95.3 points per game. Atlanta has won five straight and is 3-0 on the road.
The Pelicans need a win. That much is clear. But Gentry and his players have insisted there’s no panic this early in the season, even as they struggle to deal with injuries and adjust to new offensive and defensive systems.
As with the health of players, Gentry said, the Pelicans are taking a long-range look at the season. There won’t be a rush to bring back players, nor sweeping changes to the system.
“I know it’s a little bit discouraging,” Gentry said. “We didn’t expect to be 0-4, and mentally it takes a little out of you. But I just think we’re gonna stay the course. We’re not going to change anything and we’re not going to panic and overreact and say, ‘God, we’ve got to change all of these things.’ ”
That doesn’t mean there can’t be some adjustments. There have to be.
“As a coach, I got to look around and go, ‘Hmm. You know what? Maybe we got to change a couple things here and there,’ ” Gentry said. “Which we did (Thursday) and we will continue to do, because I don’t have all the answers either.”
Installing new system is “a two-way street,” Gentry said. “It’s not just a matter of players adjusting to his style of play. He has to adapt his system to the personnel on the team, and that’s an ongoing process.”
The Pelicans remain open to learning the new system, Gentry said. They’re trying to do the right things and have shown improvement in practice. The trick is carrying it to game time. And though the Pels are in a hurry, they don’t seem too worried.
“It’s a long season,” point guard Jrue Holiday said. “We got 78 games left. Going 0-4, next game could spark something and from there, I don’t know, anything can happen.”
What Gentry doesn’t want to happen is for the Pelicans to let a losing streak become a burden.
“The thing that we can’t do is all of the sudden change who we are and start to feel all of this pressure,” Gentry said. “We’re still gonna play music (at practice). We’re still going to have fun. The guys got to know that we truly believe in them. So it’s still going to be extremely hard work, but we’re also going to enjoy what we’re doing.”