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Jrue Holiday says he’s eager to help Pelicans in crunch time

Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley

Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley


METAIRIE, La. (AP) — As long as Jrue Holiday is on the court in the critical final minutes, he’s not terribly concerned with whether he starts, or how much playing time he gets, in his first games back with the New Orleans Pelicans.

“I don’t think our record shows how good we are,” said Holiday, who was back at practice Thursday with a team that has started 2-10 without him. “Obviously, there are some games where we were there at the end of the game and we had it won, but (there are) some things that we have to clean up at the end of the game to seal the deal.

“Down the stretch, I do think I could help with some directing and just tightening it up,” Holiday added.

The guard has spent the past three months on leave because his wife, retired international soccer star Lauren Holiday, needed brain surgery to remove a benign tumor last month, just weeks after giving birth to their first child, a daughter.

Holiday, who is slated to make his season debut against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night, said he came back now because “my wife said I could.”

Lauren Holiday is doing well enough now to “take care of herself and my daughter,” Jrue Holiday said. “She can take care of me, too. Obviously that’s big, especially from somebody who’s a mother now and somebody that went through what she went through.”

Jrue Holiday said learning that his wife had a brain tumor when she was about five months pregnant with their first child was “nerve-wracking,” and affected his perspective on life considerably, making him “grateful for each day.”

He said he also feels blessed for how his family has come through it, and for how much support both he and his wife received from basketball and soccer fans worldwide.

“Every day people are always saying they’re praying for her,” Holiday said. “So many people since I’ve been back, they don’t even ask how I’m doing; they ask how my wife’s doing. And to me, that’s awesome. That just shows how great people are around us.”

Now, he can get back to “the thrill of playing basketball,” at a time when the Pelicans could really use some help.

“Obviously he was an integral part of what we try to do offensively and defensively,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “For him, it’s just really good to be back. This is one of those times where it wasn’t a physical injury, so he’s been dying to get out there to play. It’s going to be fine. Obviously it’s going to take a little while for him to get his timing back from a basketball standpoint. I think he’s in really good shape conditioning-wise.”

A former Eastern Conference All-Star with Philadelphia, Holiday was traded to New Orleans in 2013, but missed most of his first two seasons because of a lower leg injury. Holiday began last season on minute restrictions, got progressively healthier, and wound up playing in 65 games with 23 starts before missing the last nine games because of a broken eye wall from an inadvertent elbow to the head.

Holiday averaged 16.8 points, 6.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 28.2 minutes per game last season, scoring 20 or more points 25 times.

Tim Frazier has started New Orleans’ first 12 games this season at point guard, averaging 10.8 points and 7.5 assists. Gentry said he can envision Holiday and Frazier playing together in stints.

“Jrue can play off the ball or on the ball,” Gentry said. “That’s what makes him so good. I think he’s a versatile player. We need his shooting also.”

Pelicans forward Anthony Davis said that while he didn’t get to work with Holiday much at Thursday’s practice, he assumed the team’s top guard will be effective right away.

“When you’re that good, it kind of stays with you,” Davis said.

Notes: Davis, who sat out Wednesday night’s loss at Orlando with a bruised right quadriceps, practiced on a limited basis Thursday and sounded optimistic about playing Friday. “It felt better, so hopefully it stays this way,” Davis said.