USA TODAY US Edition

Health is Holiday’s priority

Injuries have curtailed back-to-back seasons for Pelicans guard

- Jeff Zillgitt @JeffZillgi­tt USA TODAY Sports

After watching the 2014-15 New Orleans Pelicans play in the postseason from the bench in a suit because of an injury, point guard Jrue Holiday is keeping his goal simple.

He’s not concerned about making the playoffs or winning a series. He just wants to be on the court after mid-January. In the past two seasons, Holiday’s season ended essentiall­y in January — Jan. 8 in 2013-14 and Jan. 12 last season — because of injuries.

“That’s pretty important for me to be able to play through January,” Holiday said.

To improve on last season’s 4537 record and first-round playoff exit, the Pelicans need a healthy Holiday who averaged 14.8 points, 6.9 assists and 1.6 steals in 40 games last season.

Power forward Anthony Davis is without question the force and focal point of the Pelicans’ offense and defense, but new coach Alvin Gentry says it’s not all on Davis.

Guard play will be crucial under Gentry’s desire to run an uptempo offense. During training camp scrimmages, the Pelicans played with a shot clock starting at 18. Get the ball up the court and try to take advantage of the defense before it can set up.

“The way I play, I fit the style Coach Gentry wants, which is push the ball up the floor, have a nice rhythm, have a nice pace, make good decisions with the ball and off the ball and get people in their places,” Holiday said.

The Pelicans were 27th in pace last season with 93.7 possession­s per 48 minutes. So far in the preseason, they’re at 104.4 possession­s per 48 minutes. That pace won’t be maintained in the regular season, but the idea is clear.

The Pelicans have offensive ability with Davis, Holiday, forwards Ryan Anderson and Luke Babbitt, guard-forward Tyreke Evans and guards Norris Cole and Eric Gordon.

Gordon also expects to play a prominent role in Gentry’s offense, which will not only feature Davis but also shooters at the three-point line. Gordon shot a career-best 44.8% on threepoint­ers last season, and if you paid attention to the way the Golden State Warriors, for whom Gentry was an assistant coach, played last season, shooters will get their opportunit­ies.

“I’ll play a much bigger role this year because Coach is letting me get the ball in so many different ways and wants me to be a major playmaker for this team,” Gordon said. “I’m going to have a chance to score in many ways whether it’s a midrange shot, three-point shot or getting to the basket.”

Gordon says he thinks he can increase his scoring this season and sees himself involved in more pick-and-rolls. “I’ll be a more prolific scorer probably in this role now,” he said.

Three years ago, Gordon came close to playing for Gentry, who was coaching the Phoenix Suns. Then a restricted free agent, Gordon signed an offer sheet from the Suns but New Orleans matched. Now, Gordon is thrilled to have Gentry as his coach.

“He was a main factor, because I had always done well in a fastpaced tempo because of my shooting and going to the basket,” Gordon said of his desire to play for Gentry in 2012. “He’s a good person, too, because he likes to relate to his players. He’s all about being on the same page with everybody, and everybody having fun also.”

When Gordon signed that offer sheet with the Suns in 2012, he was unhappy in New Orleans. That’s no longer the case as Gordon enters the final season of his contract.

“This go-around for me, it’s all about how much fun you can have with the coach and the players,” said Gordon who hopes to make his first All- Star team. “If I’m here long term, I’ll be happy with that.”

But right now, Gordon and Holiday are concentrat­ing on mastering Gentry’s system.

“Everybody’s going to be held accountabl­e on this team,” Gordon said. “We have a lot of good players, and it’s all about us adjusting to his style of offense and defense. Once we get ahold of that, we’re going to be very good. We’re a very deep team.”

 ?? MARK ZEROF, USA TODAY SPORTS ?? The Pelicans are counting on a full season from point guard Jrue Holiday, who averaged 14.8 points in 40 games last season.
MARK ZEROF, USA TODAY SPORTS The Pelicans are counting on a full season from point guard Jrue Holiday, who averaged 14.8 points in 40 games last season.

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