WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — New Orleans Pelicans guard Norris Cole remembers well his first NBA exhibition game because, as a rookie with the Miami Heat in 2011, he behaved very much like, well, a rookie.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Cole, who came to the Pelicans in a trade last season. “I was jumping for joy just for the chance to play in the NBA. I’m still jumping for joy about that. But I understand that exhibition games are not just a chance to play and compete but a chance to keep getting ready for the whole season and specifically the first game.”
That’s the approach first-year coach Alvin Gentry is taking toward the entire preseason, including Saturday’s exhibition opener at Indiana.
“Our whole goal is that we have to be ready to play come the Golden State game (in the season opener Oct. 27),” he said on his radio show. “So everything we do is geared towards being ready for that game. This game against Indiana is so early, we haven’t looked at anything as far as personnel they have. It will truly be about us and what we’re trying to do.”
The game at Indiana is the first of seven exhibition games between now and Oct. 23 against Miami, which is the Pelicans’ lone home appearance.
While the NBA has considered cutting the number of exhibition games in order to start the season earlier, Gentry is OK with seven.
“I think as coaches we can gear it to what we want to try to get done,” he said. “What it does is give you an opportunity for other guys to be seen. My whole deal is that it is all about our team. I would be shocked if anybody played more than 20 minutes.”
That, Gentry added, includes Anthony Davis, who may be held out because of a sprained toe.
Also, since point guard Jrue Holiday is slated to play limited minutes as he recovers from a leg injury, Gentry said he likely would start Tyreke Evans, leaving him the option to bring in Holiday off the bench or to start the second half.
Cole will spell Holiday and Evans.
Either way Cole, now going into his fifth year, remains enthusiastic.
“It’s going to be great,” he said. “We’re going to get to play somebody else. And I know everybody says exhibition games don’t count, but they’ll be using the scoreboard, so somebody’s going to win. We just have to be smart about what we’re tying to do and not get caught up all of that.”
’Reke is ready
With Holiday’s minutes being limited until January, Evans is the starting point guard for now.
It’s a position he’s comfortable with, although he also can be used at small forward, shooting guard or as a sixth man.
“It’s the position I started out at,” Evans said. “So I’m comfortable when we’re putting in new sets every day. I like this system a lot because we’re running more up-tempo plays and Coach Gentry lets you be yourself and play free.”
For Evans, that means a fondness for driving to the basket, although this season that could mean more dishing to Davis for mid- and long-range jumpers.
“He’s knocking down 3s from the corner, and you can tell how much he’s worked on it,” Evans said. “There aren’t too many guys out there with AD’s size, so any time he shoots, he’s definitely going to have a good look. If I’ve got an open shot, I’m going to take it. Either way, it’s all about putting pressure on the defense by finding guys and opening things up.”
Kudos to Monty
Even though last year’s team is back virtually intact, former coach Monty Williams’ name is seldom mentioned.
So Gentry took it upon himself to do that.
“They compete their butts off,” he said about his players. “That was instilled in them last year by Monty, so we don’t have to worry about the competitive part of it.”
The Pels finished their five-day stay at The Greenbrier with another practice Friday before flying to Indianapolis.
After Saturday’s game, the Pelicans will come back to New Orleans for another week of practice before the second exhibition game, against Atlanta on Oct. 10 in Jacksonville, Florida.
Gentry said the decision to spend five days in West Virginia paid dividends.
“It’s been great in that it’s such an isolated atmosphere for us,” he said. “We’re in a beautiful, beautiful property, a great setting, a beautiful situation, but we’ve had an opportunity to get our work done. It’s a great way for our guys to bond and for us to do some team building.”
One team building exercise was to take the players skeet shooting. And being that he’s only a few days into his first training camp with the Pelicans, Gentry wasn’t worried about becoming a target.
“Some of them were honestly very, very good at it,” he said. “But none of them are mad enough to take a shot at me yet. I’ll still stay behind them if we do it again.”