‘This ain’t last year’: New-look Bulls, Pelicans square off
The New Orleans Pelicans and the Chicago Bulls both underwent significant facelifts during the offseason.
The Pelicans lost their first outing of the new season, the Bulls won theirs and the two rebuilt teams will meet Friday night in Chicago.
The Bulls’ primary holdover, All-Star Zach LaVine, had 15 of his 34 points in the third quarter to lead the Bulls to a 94-88 victory at Detroit on Wednesday.
“This ain’t last year. We’re looking forward now,” said LaVine, one of just three players from last season’s opening roster still with the team. “It’s a whole new team, a whole new mindset. We have a bunch of dogs on the team now and guys that will step up for each other.”
The key newcomers are DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso.
“This is going to be a learning curve for us,” second-year coach Billy Donovan said. “We have a lot of work in front of us, but I give the guys a lot of credit for grinding through the game.”
Ball was acquired in a trade with the Pelicans, who received Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple in the deal.
“I feel good,” said Ball, who had 12 points in his Bulls debut. “I have a good understanding of everybody’s game right now. I felt (support) from the first day that I got here. My teammates have been great. The coaches have been helping me. The front office has been great. And the city has been amazing. So I have no complaints. I’m happy to be here.”
Two newcomers — Jonas Valanciunas and Devonte’ Graham — started in the Pelicans’ 117-97 home loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday. Five other new Pelicans played off the bench, but the more experienced 76ers took command with a 22-4 run in the fourth quarter, even playing without All-Star guard Ben Simmons.
“Credit to Philadelphia, that’s a veteran team and they have been doing it for a while,” Pelicans first-year coach Willie Green said. “They know how to win down the stretch. First game for us — everything is new. The fourth quarter didn’t go our way, but we’ll get better.”
New Orleans played without Zion Williamson, who is sidelined indefinitely while recovering from surgery to repair a broken foot.
Graham, acquired in a trade with Charlotte, has taken Ball’s former role as New Orleans’ point guard. He took responsibility for the offense being sluggish, especially in the second half when the Pelicans scored just 44 points.
“I’ve got to do a better job putting guys in a better position, calling out different plays, getting guys situated,” Graham said. “That’s definitely on me.”
Third-year guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker is a holdover and a new starter in the Pelicans’ revamped lineup. He scored 23 points against the Sixers, two fewer than Brandon Ingram’s team-high.
“It was our first official game together,” Alexander-Walker said. “We’re still kind of learning and growing. A lot of changes are going to come, and we’ve just got to grind away.”
Josh Hart started in place of Williamson, but left the game for good in the second quarter with a quad injury. He’s unlikely to play against the Bulls as New Orleans begins a road trip featuring three games in four days.