Home court woes could doom Pelicans playoff push
NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Pelicans hit a sour note in falling to the Utah Jazz, 133-109 at the Smoothie King Center on Monday night. For the Pelicans, it was their fourth loss in five games since losing DeMarcus Cousins.
The 133 points represented a season-high for the Jazz, who became another entry on the list of teams and players to players to find little resistance from the Pelicans’ defense. Utah, winners of six in a row, made 14-of-21 three pointers (10-of-11 in the first half) and shot 58 percent from the floor overall. The Jazz scored at least 30 points in three out of four quarters.
Making the loss even more painful, New Orleans fell to eighth in the Western Conference standings, just a half-game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Jrue Holiday had a team-high 28 points and Rajon Rondo added a surprising 18 points (4-for-6 on three pointers) and eight assists. After averaging better than 32 points and 12 rebounds in his previous four games, Anthony Davis was held to 15 points and 11 boards. Davis scored one point in the second half, going 0-7 from the floor in nearly 17 minutes.
Nikola Mirotic struggled mightily in his second game with the Pelicans, finishing with five points and three rebounds after posting a double-double in his debut.
All-in-all, it was a bad performance at the worst possible time.
But after the game it was the same old, same old. “They just shot the ball exceptionally well,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “We just never really got them stopped. Even when we got back in the game, it was because we just outscored them. We never really got in a situation where we slowed them down because of stops.”
Anthony Davis echoed the party line. “We were in the coverage that the coaches told us to be in,” he said. “The Jazz shot the ball very well, 67 percent from three and close to 60 percent from the field. There is nothing we can do about it when all those guys are making threes.”
Those words could have been said about any number of Pelicans defeats this season, especially at home. New Orleans allows an NBA-worst 51.5 percent shooting in losses at the Smoothie King Center, including 44 percent on three-pointers (28th in the league).
In all home games, the Pels aren’t any better, tied for last in opponent field goal percentage and alone at the bottom in defending the three. The Jazz just became the latest team to take advantage of the Pelicans’ peculiar brand of Southern hospitality.
New Orleans allowed 70 points in the first half and another 63 in the second. Utah reserve Rodney Hood came off the bench to score a game-high 30 points and five Jazz players scored at least 18 points with six reaching double figures.
Sometimes the Jazz were surgical with their ball movement, creating a number of open looks. Just as often the Pelicans showed little effort or will to even attempt to defend; going under screens on shooters or just losing them in transition.
If the Pelicans were running the correct defense, then the coaches failed to adjust once Utah got going, which was shortly after tip-off as the Jazz scored 34 points in the first quarter.
It also means that the players on the floor weren’t effective in executing the defense or playing with any type of commitment on that end of the floor.
Once again, without Cousins, the Pelicans were beaten on the glass. The Jazz outrebounded the Pelicans 45-30, with five players grabbing five or more boards. Only Davis and Jrue Holiday reached that number for New Orleans.
The Pelicans cannot blame all of their woes on Cousins’ absence, however. The proof is in the numbers, and they clearly indicate that the New Orleans Pelicans defense is epically inept.
That defense could ultimately cost the Pelicans the playoff berth the team and the city so desperately need.
Five of the Pelicans’ next seven opponents are playoff contenders (Indiana, Philadelphia, Detroit, Miami, and Milwaukee). The remaining two, Brooklyn and the Los Angeles Lakers have young, energetic rosters that won’t be intimidated by the Pels either.
This is a crucial stretch for not only this season, but possibly the future of the franchise. With the trade deadline just two days away, it appears that Dell Demps may not have any more moves up his sleeve.
So somehow, someway, the New Orleans Pelicans have to find a way to protect home court. Their 14 home wins is the lowest total among any team in the West’s top 10, and only one more than Memphis and two more than the Lakers.
That’s unacceptable. And until the Pelicans figure out this problem, there is a low ceiling to how high they can fly.
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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…