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Five gold-blooded questions for “The Bird Writes” for Round 2

Preston Ellis of SB Nation’s Pelicans blog joins GSoM to answer the tough questions before Saturday’s big matchup.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors will clash with the New Orleans Pelicans this Saturday in the second round of the playoffs. To get everyone primed, Golden State of Mind and The Bird Writes have asked each other some burning questions regarding the series.

You can find the questions they asked GSoM here. Now, let’s check out how our good buddy Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) of TBW responded to some gold-blooded queries.

The Pelicans destructive sweep of the Blazers is a signature win for the Anthony Davis era. How has that series changed your expectations of this New Orleans team’s ceiling?

Preston: The expectations have shifted dramatically due to the decisiveness of that first round win, though heading into the playoffs, we did see the Portland Trail Blazers as an ideal matchup.

The sweep was the astonishment, not the victory. What was astonishing was the play of Jrue Holiday. Jrue averaged about 28 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds on 57% shooting, easily his best numbers ever. His numbers culminated in a 33-point Game Two, and a career-high 41 in Game Four. If Jrue Holiday can continue this All-Star level of play on both ends of the court, suddenly the Pelicans look a lot scarier to the Western Conference.

Another wildcard in the series was the freshly shaven Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic, when shooting 57% from the floor as he did against Portland, adds a whole ‘nother dimension to the Pelicans’ floor spacing on both ends of the court. Steve Kerr said it best post practice today, “We threw out the first three games. With Mirotic, it’s an Alvin Gentry team now.”

With Jrue at an All Star Level, Niko adding spacing and switching on both ends of the court, playoff activated Rondo, to go along with possibly the best player in the world, the Pelicans’ suddenly have dreams beyond passing the first round.

Anthony Davis has led this team to new heights after DeMarcus Cousins was injured. How did the Pelicans identity shift after Cousins went down?

They put their foot to the pedal. With Boogie in the lineup the Pelicans, the Pelicans still ran with the seventh best pace, but now with Mirotic they are first, and it hasn’t been close the past two months.

National media types will tell you the Pelicans are shooting the three more often — not true. They shot it far more often with Boogie in the lineup. He added spacing that even had Anthony Davis shooting 36% from three, and Darius Miller and E’Twaun Moore shooting over 50% in three in select months.

The Pelicans have done it with pace and with defense. While the Pelicans have created more possessions with their transition full court offense, they have somehow cut down on turnovers, where they used to lead the league. Now at 13.8 per game, they have created more opportunities to score, and given less to their opponent. In addition they have turned it up defensively in the previous two months getting nearly one more steal per game, and two blocks! Against the Blazers in Game Three, the Pelicans poked the ball away 16 times!

Davis is either the best big man in the league or an overrated stat-stuffer, depending on who you ask. What does Davis’ mean to you as a Pelicans fan, and what you feel Davis’ biggest strength and weakness is?

Davis biggest strength is his athleticism, his length, his guard-like handle, and his defensive instinct. Anthony Davis is not only a formidable one-on-one opponent on the defensive end. He is quite possibly the best help defender in the NBA. He leads the league in blocks by a WIDE margin, and he scares aggressive dribble penetrators into misses their shots. Though he doesn’t get his massive hands on every shot taken at the rim, he for sure has a hand in altering its natural course.

Offensively, he can create off the dribble, but he’s also developed a sweet baseline fadeaway. However, his greatest talent has always been at the rim. He can finish with either hand, and has the juice to out leap his defender and outfight for every rebound. His greatest struggles are as a facilitator — should he learn to see the floor in that aspect, he will truly be the most unstoppable force.

Rajon Rondo has been a revelation, allowing Jrue Holiday to play off the ball. What were your expectations of Rondo coming in and how is “Playoff Rondo” comparing to them?

I think “Playoff Rondo,” has been overblown as far as his performance on the court. He is simply playing more minutes. His numbers were bound to balloon, but per 36 the only noticeable difference is in his rebounding. Defensively, Rajon Rondo needs to be hidden against players who struggle to shoot over him, guys like Iggy and Dray. Those longer players can’t take advantage of him in the post because AD is lurking as well as Niko, who averaged 2.3 blocks and 2 steals in round one.

So what is so different about Rajon Rondo in the playoffs? Film study and communication. Rondo sets up the entire team for success by calling out opposing teams’ plays before they develop. The Pelicans’ five is set up for success as they don’t have to rely on prep. Rondo does it for them. They simply rely on their physical skills and fundamentals, while Rondo quarterbacks on every possession.

With Stephen Curry injured, do you expect the Pelicans to win Game 1 in Oracle? Why or why not? (Curry is listed as questionable for G1)

They have to. This will be the most important game of the series. While it has been reported that he will likely play (upgraded to questionable), it doesn’t change anything. The pressure is all on the Warriors to stomp out this feisty foe. Should the Warriors come out and send a message that Cinderella’s story has ended, the Pelicans’ will likely look in the mirror and begin to accept reality.

But the Pelicans’ confidence is at an all-time high. Listen to the way they talk at practices and post game conferences. They expected to be here. The arrows for these respective teams are pointing in different directions. The Warriors closed the season on a 7-10 run, with wins against the Suns (3x), the Hawks, the Kings, and the Lakers. The Pelicans have been in fight-or-die mode since the season began. Everyone is expecting GSW to switch a proverbial switch. I’m not so sure. The Pelicans are the hot team right now, and the Cinderella storyline may not be finished yet.

Warriors 114-111

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