NEW ORLEANS – I went to the Pelicans’ shootaround (or at least the very end of it) this morning, and I have important news to report. The players who will face the Warriors tonight in Game 3 of a Western Conference semifinal series were not catatonic. I didn’t see anyone hyperventilating or visibly trembling. No one sat on the Smoothie King Center court, hugging his knees and rocking back and forth, muttering about Kevin Durant.
There are many reasons to discount the Pelicans’ chances in this series, now that the Warriors are up 2-0 and Stephen Curry is pretending he never left. But PANIC does not appear to be one of those reasons.
In fact, watching the Pelicans post-practice, you might have thought they were leading the series.
While a few players, including star center Anthony Davis, put up shots at the far basket, most of the crew divided into two factions and held a half-court shooting contest. Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday appeared to be the captains. They shot from the corners, from the deep wings and, finally, from midcourt, keeping track of shots made from each spot, needling one another and crowing about who won.
“Everybody came in today in good spirits, ready to get after it tonight,” New Orleans forward Darius Miller said a little later, standing outside the home locker room.
It’s interesting that Rondo seems to play a central role is this levelheadedness. He is the veteran member of the team, and a former NBA champion with the Celtics. He also has a history of being hard to get along with. The Pelicans are his fifth team in four seasons. Three days ago at Oracle Arena, Rondo did many weird things – including wiping his face sweat all over the basketball before Draymond Green shot free throws – to get under Green’s skin.
But Rondo has strong leadership traits, too, and these young Pelicans need what he’s dishing out right now.
“Same thing he’s been talking all year – keeping the same attitude, not getting too high or too low,” Miller said. “Same thing he’s been preaching all year, and we’ve done a good job up to now, so I feel like we’ll do that tonight, too.
The Pelicans’ confidence bodes well for basketball fans. Having dropped back-to-back games in Oakland, and facing a championship team that is humming along like a bullet train, they are in a tough spot. So I was curious to see the Pelicans’ demeanor. Maybe they would be tight. Maybe they would be wearing the pressure. In which case, you could easily foresee a Game 3 blowout.
But no, Alvin Gentry’s team looked fully at ease, and ready to play basketball. That doesn’t mean they’ll beat the Warriors, but it increases the likelihood that they’ll play well. And when the Pelicans are playing well, they are a thoroughly entertaining team.