Pelicans aim to pick up the pace against Thunder

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Fresh from their first victory of the 2019-20 season, the New Orleans Pelicans travel to Oklahoma City on Saturday in pursuit of their first winning streak of the campaign.

The Pelicans stumbled out of the gate with four consecutive losses, including an overtime thriller on opening night against defending NBA champion Toronto.

New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry isn’t letting cosmetics cloud his judgment of his team, either.

“You look at the game and you look at the score and you think, ‘Oh, it ended up being an 11-point game.’ We were never in the game,” Gentry said following the Pelicans’ fourth loss, 134-123 to Golden State on Monday. “We never had any chance at all to win, and I think that’s the most disturbing thing to me.”

New Orleans received the message on Thursday, beating a Denver Nuggets team that came one shot from reaching last season’s Western Conference finals. A primary factor in the first win: the return of guard Jrue Holiday.

“He brings a defensive presence every single game, no matter what. He motivates us and he gets us going,” guard Frank Jackson told reporters following the win.

Holiday rejoins Brandon Ingram, a cornerstone of the offseason trade that sent former All-NBA big man Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Ingram has emerged as the early star of a mostly new-look Pelicans lineup, averaging team highs in points (26.8) and rebounds (8.2) through five games.

The Thunder also underwent considerable offseason change. Gone is former Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook, dealt to Houston in a trade that brought in 15-year veteran point guard Chris Paul.

They also are without All-Star Paul George, sent to the Los Angeles Clippers in a deal that brought in the squad’s two current leading scorers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari.

Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 21.6 points per game while Gallinari is registering 18.4.

Both scored below their early averages Wednesday in a 102-99 loss to Portland. Dennis Schroder continued his hot streak by coming off the bench to put up 17 points. He scored 22 points in back-to-back contests against Golden State and Houston.

Center Steven Adams’ left-knee injury opened a starting spot for Nerlens Noel, who played his best game of the season with 15 points, 14 rebounds and two assists.

“Steven goes out, he comes in last night and did a good job. I give him a lot of credit for keeping himself ready, and impacting the game and doing a good job last night on both ends of the floor,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan told The Oklahoman.

“Adams participated in non-contact practices on Friday. Should Oklahoma City again start its reserve center Noel, he could match up opposite a former Philadelphia 76ers teammate in Jahlil Okafor.

Okafor started the last two games with Derrick Favors experiencing right knee soreness. Okafor played a monster game against Denver’s All-NBA center Nikola Jokic, recording 26 points, five rebounds and two steals.

–Field Level Media

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