Cole helping keep Pelicans afloat in West playoff chase
NEW ORLEANS (AP) After all the winning he experienced in Miami, Norris Cole likes to think he can be a steadying force on a young team like the New Orleans Pelicans.
So far, so good.
New Orleans has won all three games since Cole joined the lineup following a multi-team trade last week - even as other key Pelicans players, including All-Star Anthony Davis, have been sidelined by injuries.
''Norris has been a bright spot for us because he brings some intangibles to the table,'' Pelicans coach Monty Williams said after practice Thursday. ''He's played in really big games. Nothing fazes him. We're glad to have him.''
The Pelicans valued Cole, a point guard, primarily because of his reputation as a strong on-the-ball defender, but have been pleasantly surprised by his scoring.
Cole averaged 6.3 points in 47 games with the Heat this season. With the Pelicans, he has scored 12 points against Miami last Saturday, 15 points against Toronto on Monday and 11 points against Brooklyn on Wednesday. He'll face his old club for the second time in a week Friday when the Pelicans host the Heat.
''I've always been able to play offense. It's just that with certain dynamics with teams, you're asked to play a certain way and I'm a team player, but I work on my (offense) a lot,'' Cole said. ''I can put the ball in the hole.''
Cole's contributions have helped New Orleans stay in playoff contention at a time when their prospects looked bleak.
Davis and another of New Orleans' top scorers, forward Ryan Anderson, both were hurt in the first quarter last Saturday in Miami. Davis (right shoulder) is expected to miss up to two weeks and Anderson (sprained right knee) up to a month.
Yet, thanks to their modest winning streak, the Pelicans entered Thursday trailing Oklahoma City by just two games for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Cole, who was part of Miami's 2012 and 2013 championship teams, was included in a trade which also sent guard Goran Dragic from Phoenix to Miami.
Cole's arrival in New Orleans came at a time when the Pelicans' depth was being challenged. Starting point guard Jrue Holiday, who has not played since Jan. 12, had a recent setback while rehabilitating his lower right leg injury. He's expected to be re-evaluated in two weeks.
In the meantime, Tyreke Evans, who began the year at small forward, has started at point guard. For now, Cole serves as Evans' backup, but also plays alongside Evans in the back court, allowing Evans to play off the ball in stints.
Williams also hasn't hesitated to play Cole in close games in the fourth quarter.
''I have a lot of big-game experience in the fourth quarter. I call it winning time, money time. And coach trusts me to be out there,'' Cole said. ''That's due to him knowing that I've learned the plays quickly.
''So I'm glad to be out there,'' Cole added. ''That's when players make big-time plays.''
Williams said Cole's instincts also have helped make him an instant contributor.
''He's good enough to be himself and help the team, so I threw him out there thinking he was going to do the right thing,'' Williams said. ''Norris comes onto the floor and right away you know him on the defensive end - you see the impact - and then he's scoring the ball as well. He's just something we haven't had in our program off the bench.''
Meanwhile, the outgoing Cole appears to have bonded quickly with his new teammates, who already are as quick to compliment his work ethic and energy as they are to kid him good-naturedly about his flat-top hairstyle.
''He's a good dude, man. I'm happy we got him,'' Evans said. ''He's been on championship teams. He knows what it takes to win. ... In the fourth quarter, he knows how to handle those situations.''