NEW ORLEANS — The LSU football team had its “Season of Orgeron.”
Now the New Orleans Pelicans are in the midst of their “Season of Holiday,” though “Holiday Season” has a more familiar ring to it.
Just as the Tigers started fresh when Les Miles was fired after a 2-2 start and Ed Orgeron took over as interim coach, the Pelicans have started fresh since guard Jrue Holiday has joined the team.
LSU was clearly invigorated under Orgeron and won five of seven games under him, which was a major reason why he was named the full-time head coach last Saturday.
The Pelicans started the season 0-8 and were 2-10 while Holiday stayed home in North Carolina to be wife his wife Lauren, who gave birth to the couple’s first child and underwent brain surgery.
Since Holiday joined the team — after feeling comfortable that mother and daughter were doing fine — the Pelicans have gone 5-2, including a 105-88 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night in the Smoothie King Center as Holiday made his first start of the season.
Despite all of the outstanding performances by Anthony Davis, New Orleans seemed lost without its starting point guard.
But even as Holiday came off the bench while regaining his game conditioning, he made an immediate impact by providing direction, calmness and discipline, not to mention another consistent scoring threat to complement Davis.
In his debut against Portland on Nov. 18 in the Smoothie King Center, Holiday came off the bench to score 21 points and help lead a 113-101 victory.
Coach Alvin Gentry said his team “had a much better flow down the stretch” with Holiday on the floor. Though Holiday played just 23 minutes in his debut, several were played as New Orleans held on during the fourth quarter.
“When we needed baskets we went with Jrue and A.D., which is what we went with a lot last year,” Gentry said. “I thought they were able to come up with easy baskets and make easy plays.”
Barely 24 hours later New Orleans had its first winning streak of the season as it held off Charlotte 121-116 in overtime. Holiday had a game-high nine assists and scored 17 of his 23 points after halftime.
Holiday downplayed his role in the Pelicans sudden improvement, saying “I think it was just a good time to come back.”
Clearly any time he would have come back would have been a good time for the Pelicans.
Davis said Holiday’s presence made a “huge difference, offensively and defensively.”
“He brings a presence to the team, energy and effort,” Davis continued. “When he is on the floor, we play very well.”
The Pelicans continued to play very well in victories at Atlanta and at home against Minnesota before losing consecutive road games against Portland and Dallas.
Then came Tuesday’s game and Gentry decided it was time to put Holiday back in the starting lineup. Holiday looked right at home as the Pelicans took the lead for good after 62 seconds and routed a team that had beaten them by 27 points 17 days earlier — before “The Holiday Season” began.
Los Angeles coach Luke Walton, whose team was 9-9 going into the rematch, said beforehand that his team would face a much greater challenge with Holiday back in the lineup.
“He’s an All-Star type of player,” Walton said. “Since he’s been back this team has been playing some really good basketball. They’re coming off a couple of tough losses, but overall they’re an entirely different team with him on the floor, helping play-make and knocking down big shots. We can’t expect to play the same type of game we did last time.”
He was right.
Holiday made two 3-pointers during the first half of the first quarter as New Orleans raced to an 18-8 lead and led by as many as 28 points. He finished with 22 points and five assists in 29 minutes.
Gentry credited Holiday for his part in getting the Pelicans off to a good start offensively and defensively.
“I just thought having him out there, it’s just a calming effect,” Gentry said. “Obviously having him out there with (Davis), that combination is really good for us.”
The Season of Orgeron didn’t have a Hollywood ending and LSU will be playing in some non-descript bowl game.
And there’s no reason to think the Pelicans are going to the playoffs, but they are 5-2 in this Holiday Season and the rest of the way looks a lot more interesting now.