Pelicans stunned by hot-shooting Mavericks, 128-120
NEW ORLEANS — Two teams entered the Smoothie King Center Friday night on three-game winning streaks. Unfortunately, the wrong one left with win number four.
In a stunning upset, the Dallas Mavericks handed the New Orleans Pelicans their most disappointing loss of the season, 128-120. It was another game that the Pelicans had to win, at home against an inferior opponent, but didn’t.
“I’m pissed about it,” said DeMarcus Cousins. “Everybody in the locker room is pissed about it.”
Dallas started the night 11-25, worst in the Western Conference, but the Mavs exploited the Pelicans’ porous defense, building a 26-point first half lead and made a franchise-record 22 three pointers.
The Mavericks were scoring slightly less than 100 points per game before the game, but they surpassed that in less than three quarters against the Pels.
Rookie Dennis Smith Jr. led the Mavericks with a team-high 21 points, and career highs in both rebounds (10) and assists (10), making him the third youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double.
Anthony Davis scored a team-high 33 points with Cousins providing 32 points, 20 rebounds and eight assists, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Pelicans from failing in their third attempt this season to win four straight.
The Mavs came out firing, starting the game on an 18-6 run as the Pelicans missed 14 of their first 17 shot attempts. Dallas would finish the quarter with a 36-21 lead. Smith had 10 points in the quarter on 4-4 shooting, including 2-for-2 from downtown. The Mavericks scored 15 of their points on the fast break; they came into the game averaging just over eight points per game in that area.
“I just think we didn’t start with the same energy we normally start with,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “We missed some shots early. We weren’t as connected, defensively, as I thought we should have been and so obviously they got off to a great start shooting the basketball.”
“We didn’t have any energy,” added Davis. “We let them get comfortable. They didn’t feel the defense. We didn’t play with any physicality. They got easy layups, easy threes, a lot of dare shots in. They started getting hot because we allowed them to.”
Dallas opened the second quarter on a 10-3 run, going up 46-24 with nearly 10 minutes to play in the period. Cousins did his best to keep the Pelicans afloat, scoring 24 points in 23 first half minutes.
The Pelicans scored 39 points in the quarter, but continued to act as a turnstile on the defensive end, giving up 41 points to the Mavs and allowing them to shoot 71 percent from the floor. Nine of Dallas’ 15 field goals came from beyond the arc and the Mavericks led 77-60 at the half.
“We got into a shot making groove, that’s pretty clear,” said Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carlisle.
In the third quarter. Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore scored 22 of the Pelicans’ 41 points as the team cut the deficit to eight points, trailing 109-101 after three. Holiday would finish the game with 23 points and Moore added 16. It seemed that the Pelicans had a chance to be on the winning end of a double-digit comeback.
“New Orleans is a flowing team offensively and they wanted to keep the game going,” added Carlisle. “Even when we were making runs, they kept it going. They put basically 80 points on us in two quarters, the second and third.”
“When you get that kind of separation,” said Gentry, “now you’ve got to play the perfect game to get back. I thought the guys did a great job of battling.”
Dallas would push the lead back to 12 with eight minutes remaining in the game, but the Pelicans would make one final surge. New Orleans would go on a 14-5 run that started with a Jameer Nelson jumper and ended with a pair of Anthony Davis free throws, making the score 117-120 with 3:07 remaining.
But the Mavericks’ smallest player, JJ Barea, came up big. He nailed back-to-back threes to push the Dallas lead back to nine. The Pelicans would make just one basket over the final 3:39 as the team repeatedly settled for jump shots rather than attacking 39-year old Dirk Nowitzki or working the ball around the perimeter for better scoring opportunities.
Just two days after setting the Pelicans franchise record for assists, Rajon Rondo sat out the entire fourth quarter. Gentry said he kept Rondo on the sidelines because Dallas repeatedly went under screens when New Orleans tried to run the pick and roll, but the lack of ball movement and penetration in his absence was quite noticeable.
In the end it didn’t matter. The Pelicans were beaten in every possible way by one of the league’s bottom feeders. Given the oppportunity to close out 2017 with five straight wins, a feat the franchise hasn’t accomplished since 2014, New Orleans blew it.
“We’ve got to make a few adjustments here and there, but you can’t give up twenty-two threes and you can’t have them shoot 55 percent from the field and 56 from three and think you’re going to win,” Gentry said. “It’s one of those losses that is really tough because it’s a home loss and we keep talking about how you have to establish yourself in this league at home and we just haven’t done that.”
“We needed this win,” said Davis. “We need all of them honestly, but this would have been a big one for us.”
Instead of a big win, the Pelicans are dealing with bigger disappointment. The schedule was laid out perfectly for a five-game win streak to end 2017. But it appears that the Pelicans will enter the new year with many of the same questionmarks from the old.
Right now the Pelicans are where their roommates on Airline Highway, the New Orleans Saints, were for about half a decade. The Pels are an exceptional offensive team, capable of scoring in any and every way. They are also an exceptionally poor defensive team, incapable of the type of sustained effort needed to win consistently.
All is not lost. The Pelicans are still firmly in the playoff picture with thier closest competition starting to fade. However, if they can’t find the commitment to defend and rebound their trip to the playoffs will be a brief one.
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David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…