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NBA: Familiar face to lead Pelicans against Warriors

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Two-time champion assistant Willie Green returns to the San Francisco Bay Area for the first time as a head coach when he leads the struggling New Orleans Pelicans up against his former team, the Golden State Warriors, on Friday night.

Green was a member of Steve Kerr’s coaching staff during Golden State’s championship runs in 2017 and 2018, as well as an appearance in the NBA Finals in 2019.

Things haven’t gone so well in his first season as Pelicans head coach, with injuries to key players Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram that have contributed mightily to the team’s 1-8 start.

Williamson remains out an estimated two more weeks following surgery on his right foot, but Ingram appears likely to return from a bruised hip after missing New Orleans’ last three games.

The Pelicans lost those games, as well as the last two Ingram played, and will be saddled with a five-game losing streak when they duel a Warriors squad that has opened the season at the other end of the success spectrum, winning six of seven.

The contest matches a Pelicans team playing its third of four straight on the road against a Warriors squad enjoying its fourth of what will be eight in a row at home.

Green worked in player development with the Warriors at a time when the club was trying to get up-and-comers like Kevon Looney and Damion Lee to the level where they could contribute alongside Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant.

The Warriors have benefitted from that work. Looney, now 25, has started all seven games this season and chipped in with at least seven points or seven rebounds in six of them. Lee, now in his fifth season, has scored in double figures in all six games he’s played.

The Pelicans hope Green can get that kind of complementary production out of young players such as Jaxson Hayes, Trey Murphy III and Kira Lewis Jr. when they eventually are surrounded by the likes of Williamson, Ingram, Devonte’ Graham and Jonas Valanciunas.

Green believes he’s learned from Kerr and Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams how to connect with his guys. Green was on the Phoenix staff that reached the NBA Finals last season.

“They care about you,” he said of his former bosses. “It’s easier to get people to reach their max when they know you care about them.”

Green’s coaching staff includes Jarron Collins, another two-time champion in his previous employment as a Golden State defensive assistant and then defensive coordinator. Coincidentally, the Warriors are coming off their best defensive effort of the season Wednesday against the Charlotte Hornets, limiting what was the highest scoring team in the league to a season-low 92 points.

Afterward, Kerr credited backup Gary Payton II as spearheading the defensive charge.

“He dominated the game while he was out there and just changed everything with his defense, his activity,” Kerr said after Payton had three steals. “He is just an electric athlete. It’s hard to stand out on an NBA floor athletically because it’s the world’s greatest athletes, and he jumps off the page when you see him out there. He’s obviously got great defensive instincts to go along with that athleticism.”

The Pelicans have made three previous trips to San Francisco in the Williamson era, winning 115-101 the one time their star was healthy in February of 2020 and losing the two times he wasn’t.

–Field Level Media

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