NBA basketball is undergoing a drastic change in New Orleans.
No, it's not just the team's new nickname, the renovated arena or the retooled roster. Expectations have risen for a franchise that lost roughly 68 percent of its games over the last two years, and the Pelicans aren't hiding from them as they open their season at home Wednesday night against the Indiana Pacers.
"I believe we can make the playoffs," said 2012 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, who averaged 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds as a rookie. "We know it's going to be a lot of hard work, but we're prepared for it."
The then-Hornets went 21-45 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign and finished 27-55 last season, missing the playoffs for the third time in four years. New owner Tom Benson, who also owns the NFL's Saints, rebranded the franchise with a more New Orleans-themed nickname and gave general manager Dell Demps free reign to improve the roster.
He seemingly has done just that, acquiring Philadelphia All-Star Jrue Holiday in a draft-night trade in exchange for the No. 6 overall pick. He also sent starting point guard Greivis Vasquez to Sacramento and center Robin Lopez to Portland in a three-team deal that brought in Tyreke Evans and center Jeff Withey.
"Obviously, there's something new here and I'm really excited to be a part of it," said Holiday, who averaged a career-best 17.7 points for the 76ers in 2012-13.
Coach Monty Williams appears to have more talent to work with on his roster. Ryan Anderson, the team's leader with 1,309 points last season, returns along with Eric Gordon, who averaged 17.0 points in only 42 games while battling a knee injury.
Anderson, though, has a chip fracture in a toe on his right foot and is expected to miss the next one to three weeks.
"I've been dealing with injuries and so forth, but when you have a lot of talented guys, where you have a chance to grow together ... anything can happen," Gordon said. "We have the talent to be a playoff team."
Williams also is expecting Davis to take a step forward in his second season.
"You're going to see a more confident Anthony," Williams said. "Last year, I thought he was trying to do the right thing and please everybody. Now he's just learning that you just got to go out there and play."
The Pelicans' quest for the playoffs begins Wednesday as they look to end a four-game skid against Indiana, which came within one victory of the NBA Finals last season.
The Pacers (1-0), projected by many to make another deep playoff run, pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat Orlando 97-87 in their opener Tuesday. Paul George, last season's Most Improved Player, scored a game-high 24 points.
"We've got to win the battles, win the tough games and we've got to win the games that we should win," George said. "We have to take care of business early and not rely on the end of the season to start playing well and start getting a streak going. We have to start a streak early."
David West, who spent his first eight seasons with New Orleans, finished with 13 points for Indiana, which trailed by four at halftime and committed 20 turnovers.
Roy Hibbert, who had 16 rebounds, eight points and seven blocks, limped to the bench in the fourth quarter after taking a fall, but coach Frank Vogel said he expects his center to play Wednesday.
West scored a game-high 25 and George had 17 points and 12 rebounds as Indiana beat New Orleans 81-75 in the most recent meeting Dec. 22.
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