Pelicans’ Holiday on rise ahead of matchup with Jazz
NEW ORLEANS — For most of the season, the New Orleans Pelicans have struggled to find a complementary scoring option to forward Anthony Davis.
It is always dangerous and perhaps even foolhardy to make sweeping generalizations about the up-and-down Pelicans, but guard Jrue Holiday’s form over the past month seems to qualify as exactly what Davis has needed — a relief jumper, a smooth glide to the basket, a no-look feed and reliably sticky defense.
Davis and Holiday combined for 64 points in the Pelicans’ 111-106 comeback victory over the Phoenix Suns on Monday night, and they would love more of the same Wednesday when New Orleans hosts the Utah Jazz at the Smoothie King Center.
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The Pelicans split their four-game season series with Utah last season, but Holiday is playing at a level far above the 15.0 points and 5.5 assists he averaged against the Jazz last year.
Holiday missed the first 20 games of the season while caring for his wife, Lauren, a former U.S. soccer star who gave birth to their first child and then a short time later underwent successful surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. Holiday is averaging 23.9 points, 8.6 assists and 1.9 steals on 55 percent shooting over the past eight games.
“I’m just being aggressive,” Holiday said. “Obviously, the shots that they’ve been giving me, I’ve taken them, and I’ve been able to knock them down.”
Davis and Holiday combined for 27 of the Pelicans’ 34 points in the decisive fourth quarter against Phoenix, feeding off each other in a way consistent with the Pelicans’ hopes for the dynamic pick-and-roll duo.
After scoring a combined 35 points in the fourth quarters of three consecutive road losses, Davis said he knew it was time for him and his point guard to produce. The Pelicans (20-32) did not score in the final 5:50 in a 105-91 loss at Washington last Saturday, allowing the Wizards to go on a 15-0 run to end the game.
“It’s on (us) to execute and do most of the scoring in the fourth quarter, especially when it gets close,” Davis said. “In the (loss to Washington), I didn’t score at all in the fourth. We’ve gotta do a better job, in a sense, of taking over the game, going out and making plays for ourselves or each other.”
After practice Tuesday, coach Alvin Gentry said he sees Holiday, a former All-Star with the 76ers, rounding into form after missing all of training camp and the first quarter of the season due to his wife’s health scare.
“I’ve seen him do it, and in Philly he did it,” Gentry said. “Obviously, the health issue was a concern, but when he was healthy, as he is now, it doesn’t surprise me the way he’s playing. The big thing, although he was healthy, was that he had to clear his mind. I think he’s locked in and playing great basketball.”
The Jazz (33-19) have won three straight and are 7-3 in their last 10 games. Gordon Hayward averaged 20.5 points, four rebounds and three assists in the four games against New Orleans last year, and forward Derrick Favors put up 26.3 points and eight rebounds in three games against the Pelicans.
Hayward is making the first All-Star appearance for a member of the Jazz since Deron Williams in 2011. Utah is coming off a 120-95 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, one of the Jazz’s best all-around performances of the season. The Jazz shot 61.3 percent from the field.
“We’re a long way away from being at the level that we want to be at,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “It’s just not where we are. We haven’t been there yet. We’ve been there in a few spurts, but we’ve got work to do. We can pat ourselves on the back for about five seconds, then it’s time to try to keep going.”