Pelicans appear to be running on fumes
Alvin Gentry was fuming, and justifiably so. The New Orleans Pelicans had just fallen, and fallen hard, to the Portland Trail Blazers 128-112.
The Pelicans trailed by as many as 21 points on their way to their third loss in four games.
Gentry had been talking about defense as the key to team success since the preseason. It’s a message that has not reached his team.
“We’ve got to do better defensively,” he said. “Every night [the other team is scoring] 130, 140, 147, and we’re not going to win games until we’re able to guard somebody. We’ve got to be able to defend and we’re not doing it, and we’re putting ourselves in a tough situation. Offensively, we can’t score that many points every night to win. Tonight, we needed 130 to win the game.”
He wasn’t finished.
“You’ve got to keep your man in front of you and if you can’t do it, we’ve got to find somebody who can. You’ve got to guard your position. We can’t keep having guys drop to the basket and lay it in.”
He really wasn’t finished.
“We can’t have a guy come into the game and get 20 points and laugh at us while he’s doing it,” Gentry said of Blazers’ reserve Jake Layman’s second quarter scoring outburst. “At some stage you’ve got to take a little pride in what you’re doing. That’s what you’ve got to do. And it’s frustrating as hell. It is. Because I know that we’re capable of doing it. I don’t know why we’re not doing it. But until we decide that that’s going to be the most important thing and we’re going to have a good season, we’re going to struggle. We’re going to struggle just like this.”
The Pelicans have struggled their way down to 27th in the NBA defensively. That seems inconceivable for a team with two First Team All-NBA defenders on the roster, but anyone who has watched this team for any significant stretch isn’t surprised.
Portland was just the most recent team to take advantage of the Pels’ lack of effort or even concern about stopping opponents.
More maddening is the fact that urgency from the players to correct the problem seems to be missing as well.
“Whatever coach says, we do it,” said Julius Randle. “It’s that simple. It’s just consistency.”
The only consistency for the Pelicans is how bad they’ve been. Oh, and Julius has been a BIG part of that.
Out of 97 power forwards ranked by ESPN, Randle ranks 97th in Defensive Real Plus-Minus, which measures a player’s estimated on-court impact on team defensive performance.
Most of his teammates aren’t much better.
PELICANS DEFENSIVE REAL PLUS-MINUS POSITIONAL RANKINGS
Player Pos Rank
Anthony Davis PF 3 of 97
Jrue Holiday PG 11 of 98
Elfrid Payton PG 42 of 98
E’Twaun Moore SG 49 of 108
Julius Randle PF 97 of 97
Niko Mirotic PF 59 of 97
Tim Frazier PG 69 of 98
Darius Miller SF 67 of 90
Solomon Hill SF 63 of 90
Frank Jackson PG 93 of 98
Ian Clark SG 85 of 108
Now, with Davis sidelined 1-2 weeks with a finger sprain, things look even more bleak.
Ending this road trip 1-4 seems not only possible, but probable at this point, meaning the Pelicans will fall further behind in the playoff race.
By any reasonable measure, the Pels need a miracle. If you’ve got a candle, light it. If you’ve got a prayer, say it. But don’t hold your breath.
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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…