Pelicans ready for Mavs, but remain in awe of Rondo
NEW ORLEANS — Even 24 hours later, all anyone associated with the New Orleans Pelicans could talk about after practice on Wednesday was the dazzling passing display from point guard Rajon Rondo, who set career and franchise records with 25 assists in a 128-113 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.
“We call him ‘Coach’ Rondo,” said Pelicans guard E’Twaun Moore, who benefited from Rondo’s passing prowess by going 8 of 11 from the floor and scoring 20 points in the victory over Brooklyn. “He’s always orchestrating and putting people in the right places.”
Rondo’s influence on the Pelicans’ offense — both calming and catalytic — will be on display Friday night when New Orleans (18-16) goes for its fourth consecutive win against the Dallas Mavericks (11-25).
Coach Alvin Gentry said in reviewing tape of the Nets’ game, Rondo’s performance could have been even better.
“You pick out five or six other shots that could have been made that were the correct plays, and you really see just how great it was,” Gentry said. “He had played 19 minutes and had 15 assists at one stage. That’s the kind off player he is. It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been around him day to day and see what he can do, just facilitating plays and getting guys in the right spots. He just has a real thorough understanding of the game.”
Rondo’s emergence in the Pelicans’ scheme has tracked the team’s recent success. New Orleans set a franchise record with 40 assists on 48 made field goals against Brooklyn, but perhaps just as important was how it protected the ball, surrendering a season-tying low of 10 turnovers.
Rondo’s influence also has been manifested in his ability to get inside the head of center DeMarcus Cousins, who for too many games this season has tried to force things offensively by impersonating a 6-foot-11 point guard, trying to dribble through traffic in the lane. That’s one reason Cousins is leading the league in turnovers at 5.0 per game.
But in the last four games — three of them victories — Cousins has trimmed his turnover average to 3.3 per game.
“This dude never stops talking,” Cousins said of Rondo. “He really irks my nerves. He’s always teaching, he’s always helping. Even when you don’t want to hear it, he’s going to be the guy to tell you. It’s a nonstop thing with him.”
It’s been 2 1/2 years since Rondo left Dallas after clashing with coach Rick Carlisle during a four-month cameo appearance as a Maverick. Rondo and Carlisle did not see eye-to-eye over play-calling responsibilities and pace, and Carlisle benched Rondo for a game after a heated argument during a timeout.
After Rondo was released, Carlisle said the trade that brought Rondo from Boston was never a good fit for the point guard because Rondo needed a team of shooters to thrive, and the Mavericks’ roster was filled with “slashers.”
Carlisle predicted at the time that Rondo would succeed in other systems that could maximize his strengths as a distributor.
Gentry, for one, believes Rondo, who will turn 32 in February, knows so much about the game that he will make an excellent NBA coach one day.
“If you’re around him enough you understand that he’s got a thorough understanding of the game,” Gentry said. “I’ll be shocked if he’s not a coach in this league after he retires. He knows the game and he’s got a great feel for it. He studies the game. Every practice, every game he puts it on video and he asks questions about it.”
The Pelicans defeated the Mavericks 99-94 in Dallas on Nov. 3. The Mavericks are coming off a 98-94 road victory over Indiana and have won two straight and three of their last five.
“We were able to build off what we did last night in Dallas (a 98-93 victory over Toronto), and hopefully we carry that momentum over to New Orleans,” said Mavs forward Harrison Barnes.
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