Pelicans close road trip with dud, fall to Timberwolves
The stage was set for the New Orleans Pelicans to get their heads up at the end of a very difficult road trip.
The Pelicans were facing the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves, owners of the worst record in the Western Conference and a team which had lost four straight games.
It was a Minnesota team without its two leading scorers in Karl Anthony-Towns and D’Angelo Russell.
It was a Timberwolves squad which was playing the second of a back-to-back, having been whipped by Atlanta 116-98 on Friday night.
Rather than get their heads up, the Pelicans head home with their hands in the sand after a bad 120-110 loss to Minnesota to close the trip with a 1-5 record.
The Timberwolves wanted it more, clearly, and were more hungry and active throughout.
New Orleans came out smoking, shooting 72 percent from the field (14-of-19) in the first quarter while Minnesota shot just 39.3 percent but the Pelicans only led 31-28. Zion Williamson got just one shot, scoring three points. New Orleans hurt itself with six turnovers.
Eric Bledsoe was on fire in the first half, scoring 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range. Brandon Ingram had 17 points while Zion Williamson scored 11 points.
The Timberwolves stayed close by going 8-of-17 from 3-point range, outscoring the Pelicans 27-10 off the bench and due to 10 turnovers by the Pelicans. Former LSU star Naz Reid had 14 points in the half.
The Pelicans, who have had third quarter woes much of the season, experience those shortcomings again. While the defense remained shaky, the offense disappeared as New Orleans went just 5-of-24 from the field, including 0-for-8 from 3-point range as the Pelicans scored just 14 points in the quarter and trailed 87-78 going to the final quarter.
The trend is obvious.
New Orleans has now lost seven of its last eight third quarters by a total of 66 points, outscored by an average of 8.2 points per third quarter, a significant margin.
New Orleans never really threatened in the fourth quarter, though they closed to within six late, playing hard in the final five to six minutes. That was too little, too late.
You have to play hard from start to finish.
This is the NBA.
Ingram finished with 30 points but had seven turnovers. Bledsoe had 28 points, a season high.
Williamson finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and three assists but was just 6-of-16 from the field. Lonzo Ball had 11 points, seven assists and four rebounds but was just 3-of-9 from 3-point range. Nickeil Alexander-Walker was decent with 10 points and three rebounds in 21 minutes.
Then, there is JJ Redick.
His difficult season continued as Redick was 0-for 6, all shots from 3-point range, and went scoreless in 11 minutes. Redick, who is supposed to be the team’s best shorter, is shooting 30 percent from 3-point range.
The bench scoring was totally one-sided.
Minnesota outscored the New Orleans reserves 50-17.
Of course, the Pelicans were one again outscored from 3-point range 36-30.
The Pelicans committed 21 turnovers and got whipped 50-42 on the boards by a team that simply outworked them.
Perhaps the best illustration of a lack of direction, poor decision making and poor shooting is the fact that New Orleans had just 21 assists to go with its 21 turnovers.
Reid led Minnesota with 20 points. Good for the former LSU star.
All things considered, it was the worst loss of the season for New Orleans. The term embarrassing would not be too strong to use in describing it.
After starting the season 4-2, New Orleans has now lost eight of its last nine games. That would qualify as a tailspin, by any metrics and most certainly does, based upon how this team is performing.
In their last nine games, the Pelicans are allowing 118.3 points per game. Has the defense improved at all under Stan Van Gundy as compared to Alvin Gentry?
Once again, the Pelicans did not defend or extend well on that end of the floor, did not shoot the 3-pointer well enough and could not take care of the basketball.
Van Gundy had better find something that works, some identity, and consider playing Kira Lewis and playing smaller more often, period.
The Pelicans return to action Monday night, hosting San Antonio as a 6-game homestand follows the 6-game road trip.
Perhaps being at home will help. This team needs help in any fashion.
Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…