Defense fails to measure up for Pelicans

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Demar Derozan, E'twaun Moore

NEW ORLEANS — I’m certain that on any given night, there are few lawyers seated in the Smoothie King Center. Unfortunately, not one of them plays for the New Orleans Pelicans, who seem defenseless at home.

The Pelicans fell to the Toronto Raptors 125-1165 last night, allowing an opponent to reach triple digits for the 13th time in 15 games this season. The loss dropped the Pelicans to 8-7 on the season and gave the Raptors a series sweep. New Orleans had its three-game winning streak snapped in Toronto last week.

In two games against Toronto the Pelicans gave up 247 points (123.5 per game). The Raptors made 16 three-pointers against the Pels, tying the season-high that they set last week against these same Pelicans.

Over the final three quarters Toronto scored 96 points and topped 30 points in a quarter twice. In eight quarters against New Orleans this season, the Raptors scored 30 or more five times.

“Rotations were bad,” said DeMarcus Cousins, who finished with 25 points and nine rebounds. “Communication was pretty bad. We let guys that are known shooters get wide open shots, so that’s on us.”

“I mean, they were hot,” added Jameer Nelson. “We had some breakdowns and they made us pay.”

Three pointers have been a problem for the Pelicans all season. Plenty has been written about their struggles making threes, but they’ve struggled much worse in stopping teams from making them.

Monday night, it was the lowly Atlanta Hawks who set their season-high as they made 17 threes on 36 attempts, a blistering 47 percent clip. In seven home games at the Smoothie King Center the Pelicans have given up nearly 14 threes per game, and are allowing 11.7 three pointers overall, up from 10.5 last season.

Visiting opponents are making better than 42 percent of thier attempts from distance against New Orleans. Only the Cleveland Cavaliers have been worse in the entire NBA in that catergory (45.5 pct.). The Pelicans rank 19th overall at defending the three this season (37.1 pct.). They were 10th in 2016-17.

New Orleans’ defensive woes are across the board. Though they have a winning record after 15 games, compared to 5-10 at this point last season, the Pelicans’ defense has seen a decline in field goal percentage allowed, effective field goal and true shooting percentage defense.

Strangely, the Pelicans are only slightly better in defending shots inside the arc and overall rebounding while having both Davis and Cousins available in 13 of 15 games.

The Pelicans rank 23rd in the league in points allowed (108.2 points per game), and after last night’s performance, the team is giving up more than it’s scoring (108.0 points per game) each night. That isn’t a recipe for success.

It doesn’t get any more simple than this. The New Orleans Pelicans are 4-0 when they shoot better than the opposition and they are 4-7 when they don’t.

The reasons that the Pelicans defense has slipped are pretty apparent. In the team’s current starting five (Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, Dante Cunningham, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins), only Holiday and Davis would be considered plus defenders. Yes, the Pelicans defense is essentially elite when Boogie and AD are both on the floor, but they can only play so many minutes together each night. The lack of depth in the front court, Cousins’ penchant for picking up fouls (3.8 per game compared to Davis’ 2.1), and Alvin Gentry’s rotation have limited the duo’s time on the floor.

The Pelicans should improve somewhat when Tony Allen, and eventually Solomon Hill, return to the lineup. Until then, someone, anyone has to step up defensively. It just doesn’t appear that person is on the current roster.

Outside of the Pelicans’ starting five, only Jameer Nelson is holding opponents to less than 45 percent shooting.

If nothing changes, New Orleans will remain one of the league’s most entertaining teams. But these Pelicans are supposed to be all in for the playoffs. For Cousins, too. And, quite possibly, for the future of the franchise. The future is very cloudy if the defense doesn’t improve. Very cloudy indeed.

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David Grubb

Sports 1280am host/CCS reporter

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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…

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