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NBA PM: Jrue Holiday Lifting the Pelicans

The Pelicans are a completely different team when Jrue Holiday is in the starting lineup.

Alex Kennedy

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Prior to Jrue Holiday’’s return to the New Orleans Pelicans, the team was 2-10 with losses against non-playoff teams like the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic among others.

Anthony Davis was posting monster numbers, but he wasn’t getting anywhere near enough help from his supporting cast to lift the Pelicans to victory on most nights. In addition to missing Holiday, the team was also without Tyreke Evans (right knee surgery and blood clot in his calf) and Quincy Pondexter (left knee surgery).

Getting Holiday back in the starting lineup has changed everything for New Orleans. With Holiday, the Pelicans are 5-4, with impressive wins over the Portland Trail Blazers, Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers. The team is playing much better with their 26-year-old floor general.

Holiday had missed the first 12 games of the season while his pregnant wife was battling a brain tumor. Thankfully, their child was born healthy and Jrue’s wife, Lauren, had brain surgery to remove the tumor. With that scary episode in the past, Holiday is once again with the team and playing at a high level.

This season, Holiday is averaging 15.4 points, 6.1 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.1 steals, while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three-point range. He’s first in the team in assist percentage (38.1 percent), and he’s second only to Davis in true shooting percentage (53.8 percent), usage percent (26.7 percent) and offensive box plus/minus (1.7).

Not only has Holiday’s return helped the starting lineup, it has also strengthened the bench. The team can now return Tim Frazier and Langston Galloway to the bench rather than forcing them into the starting five. While a toe injury recently kept Holiday out of Monday’s double-overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, it doesn’t seem serious and the point guard should be back in the lineup soon.

Talk to anyone around the Pelicans organization, and it’s clear that Holiday’s presence has helped the team immensely.

“We’re definitely more balanced [since] we got Jrue back,” forward Terrence Jones said. “He’s penetrating and creating for himself and others, and it’s just making us an entirely different team offensively. And on the defensive side, for the guards he’s applying a lot of pressure [on them] and making it tough for those guys to get into their offense.

“You get a key piece back to our team with Jrue, and you can see things starting to flow on the first and second unit… I [felt] more comfortable out there knowing he was out there.”

Frazier did a good job of filling in for Holiday while he was out. In 21 games as a starter, he averaged 11 points, 7.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds and one steal in 31.4 minutes per game, while shooting 43.2 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three-point range. While Holiday’s return means Frazier will return to a sixth man role, even he’s excited to get Jrue back.

“Jrue coming in brought a huge spark for us and we’ve just been rolling with it,” Frazier said. “A lot of it is confidence. Guys are shooting the ball with confidence and playing hard. A lot of it is just coming out and playing hard with execution. We believe that we’re a good team; we knew that all the way. Now it’s starting to click for us.”

The chemistry between Anthony Davis and Holiday is obvious, and head coach Alvin Gentry believes his team is more comfortable when their two leaders are on the floor together.

“I just thought having him out there, it’s just a calming effect,” Gentry said. “And obviously having him out there with AD, that combination is really good for us.”

Davis has been incredible this year, averaging 31.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.7 steals while shooting 50.3 percent from the field. However, even the NBA’s best players can’t win on their own, so Holiday’s contributions have led to more wins and taken some of the burden off of Davis.

One thing that Gentry had stressed prior to Holiday’s return was ball movement and a balanced offensive attack. When Holiday returned, he felt Gentry’s adjustments made it easier for him to get acclimated and shake off the rust that comes from sitting for so long.

“These guys made it easy for me,” Holiday told reporters. “We were trying to get into the rhythm and I think the way they were moving the ball before I came [back] just kind of helped. They were all really encouraging, and they were passing the ball and looking for me so it felt good.”

Holiday believes that a big reason for New Orleans’ recent success is their end-of-game execution. The team is doing a much better job holding onto leads.

“We are starting to close games out,” Holiday told reporters. “When we get up down the stretch and we have the lead, [we] keep that advantage – making the right plays and not having turnovers. Or when we do have a turnover, we get a stop on the other end. We are just executing down the stretch better.”

Holiday missed Monday’s game with his toe injury and he’s questionable to play Thursday night against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Gentry has told his team that they need to continue competing regardless of who is in the lineup. Remember, this is a Pelicans team that was decimated by injuries last year, so they know a thing or two about playing shorthanded. Gentry doesn’t want his players using injuries as an excuse.

“We’ve just got to keep fighting – no one’s going to feel sorry for us,” Gentry said. “As far as we’re concerned, we’ve got to dig ourselves out of this. It doesn’t matter who’s hurt or not playing. We’ve got to find a way to win games.”

The Pelicans are currently in the Western Conference’s 12th seed, but they are only five games back from the eighth seed. They are hoping to return to the postseason this year after missing the playoffs in 2015-16 with a 30-52 record (due in large part to significant injuries).

Holiday is in the final year of his contract with the Pelicans, meaning he will be an unrestricted free agent in July.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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