Lack of defense, not record, more concerning for Pelicans in winless preseason

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NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Pelicans ended their preseason schedule as it began – without a victory.

The Pelicans are the only franchise to go winless in the NBA exhibition play after losing 134-119 to the Toronto Raptors at the Smoothie King Center.

While the Pels were playing the second night of a back-to-back, the Raptors sat the top seven players in their rotation including Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, and Danny Green.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Raptors came to play. After taking a 37-31 lead after one quarter, the Pelicans were outscored in each of the remaining three periods and allowed 30 points or more in all four quarters.

Anthony Davis led all scorers with 36 points, pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds and blocked three shots. Julius Randle also had a double-double with 20 points and 11 boards.

The Raptors had seven players reach double figures, led by Pascal Siakam’s 21 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and four steals. Malachi Richardson scored 21 as well, making 4-of-9 from three-point territory.

After the game, New Orleans head coach Alvin Gentry was very critical of his team’s effort on the defensive end.

“We’ve gotta have more of a presence on the ball,” he said. “Last year we were one of the top screen and roll defensive teams, and that seems to be the one thing that’s hurting us. Then we’ve got to do a better job of guarding our own guys. Offensively we’re fine, but you can’t score 120 two straight nights and still lose by double figures.”

The players seemed less concerned.

“We just gotta lock in,” said Julius Randle. “We’ve gotta lock in, communicate, keep guys off the (offensive) glass, and come with a physical presence.”

“I think it’s a bit of miscommunication,” said Jrue Holiday, who finished with 14 points, eight assists, and six rebounds in nearly 29 minutes of action. “We have six days to correct that. Minor things, but I don’t think it’s anything effort-wise.”

Something was clearly off with the Pels defense though, and has been the entire preseason.

The Pelicans rank 29th in defensive rating (109.3) among NBA teams. They’ve given up 25.4 points per game off of their turnovers, also 29th in the league. Worst of all, the Pelicans are giving up more than 65 points in the paint.

Last season, the Pelicans got off to a subpar start defensively and won just 11 of their first 20 games. If we had all looked at the preseason stats then, we would have seen it coming.

New Orleans was next-to-last in DRTG, but none of their key numbers were as bad as they’ve been this season. Alvin Gentry has a championship ring from his time with the Golden State Warriors and, despite popular opinion, he knows that team became a dynasty because of their defense. He needs the Pelicans to find that same mentality.

“It’s concerning that you played two straight games and give up over 130 points in both games,” Gentry added. “We’ve got to do a better job of following the game plan and the we’ve got to do a better job of executing.”

One of his greatest frustrations was that Toronto was able to score from anywhere.

“They shot 32 three-pointers and we’ve done a good job of running people off the line,” Gentry added. “But if you look at the points in the paint, they had 70. You can’t give up three-pointers and points in the paint. We’ve got to do an overhaul on the defense and get it where we can stop people and put ourselves in position to win games.”

That overhaul has to come quickly. The Pelicans are less than a week away from the season opener against the Houston Rockets. Few teams can test a defense as well as the Rockets can with Chris Paul, James Harden, Carmelo Anthony, Clint Capela, and Eric Gordon.

“We don’t have a choice,” said Gentry. “We’ll put in the work. The great thing about the guys in (the locker room) is that they understand the deficiencies that we’ve had. They know that we have four days to really lock in and be ready for Houston. We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves. We just have to go back to work and get it going.”

Last season, the Pelicans began the season as one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. They ended it as one of the best. They’ll need a repeat of that transformation to keep pace in the rugged Western Conference. Except, this time they need it to happen a lot quicker.

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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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