Pelicans confound observers again, falling to Raptors for second time in a week
Just when you were ready to embrace the New Orleans Pelicans, they played a tired, worn out team a long way from home playing the second of back-to-back games.
The Raptors had just beaten one of the league’s best teams in Houston in a physically and emotionally draining contest and arrived in New Orleans in the wee hours of the morning. The home team was well rested. There was the revenge factor of having lost a very close game in Toronto the previous week. The table was set.
While the utensils were place properly, the Pelicans chose to use the cloth napkin from the table setting instead, waving it wildly as Raptors players were invited to have wide open looks with open arms. It was the Raptors who used the utensils to carve up the Pelicans 125-116 at Smoothie King Center.
In any sport, at any level, if you do not defend, you cannot beat good teams or contend for championships. We have the prime example in New Orleans with the Saints.
Scoring 116 points is great but it is not worth the computer screen it appears on if the opponent is allowed to score virtually at will.
It is one thing for an opponent to shoot the ball well. Toronto shot 59.2 percent from the field (45-of-76). That included 47.1 percent (16-of-34) from 3-point range. You have to make a more concerted attempt to guard people. The chances of players making shots is increased dramatically when they have open to wide open looks, rather than contested attempts.
Amazingly, the Pelicans dominated points in the paint and Toronto committed 21 turnovers. New Orleans shot 50.5 percent from the field. The Raptors still won easily.
Yes, Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins were in foul trouble early, a hindrance to the performance, to be certain. Alvin Gentry surely let us know that emphatically in his post-game comments.
The final margin was legitimate. The closest the Pelicans got in the final quarter was within nine points, the margin of victory for Toronto. Cousins played the entire final quarter. Davis re-entered the game with 9:24 to play. They were unable to make a dent in the deficit.
Credit the Raptors.
They are a good basketball team, a consistently good but not great basketball team that wins consistently. They have depth and balance, evidenced by placing seven players in double figures.
It appeared early on that the Pelicans would blow the Raptors out of the building, building a 30-16 lead with 3:10 to play in the first quarter. Instead, they blew it.
It was 54-53 Toronto at the half. The third quarter was the deciding factor as the Raptors outscored New Orleans 34-23 to take command and never relinquished the advantage.
New Orleans is not a bad team.
The Pelicans are still 8-7 through 15 games. The problem is that all of the victories have come against losing teams.
That is evidence of an average to mediocre team.
If you are looking for a silver lining, Rajon Rondo started for the first time and showed what he is capable of, balancing the floor, looking to pass first, penetrating and delivering eight assists to happy teammates in just 14 minutes. He makes this a better team. Of course, they need him on the floor more often.
The bench is better with E’Twaun Moore now a reserve. Darius Miller and Chieck Diallo continue their rise. Miller had his second straight productive game, scoring 13 points off of a 21-point effort in Monday night’s win over Atlanta.
Considering the total lack of offense from Dante Cunningham, Gentry should consider starting Miller at the small forward spot. Diallo has scored eight and nine points, respectively, in two of his last three games as he provides some length off the bench to relieve Davis and Cousins. Jameer Nelson had seven points and seven rebounds in a reserve role. Nelson summed up the loss and his team perfectly.
“On offense, we’re just as good as anyone, but on defense, we have to get better.”
Saints fans can certainly relate to this. The worm has turned for the NFL team, thanks to good personnel decisions and productive coaching changes on the defensive side of the football. Nothing will change with the New Orleans NBA entry until the team commits totally to guarding better. New Orleans has now shot 50 percent or better in a franchise record five straight games.
While New Orleans averages 108 points per game, 10th in the league. the Pelicans allow 108.2 points per game, 23rd out of 30 teams in the league. You get the picture.
Pass the salt and pepper, please? It is time to spice things up on defense or find players who are willing to do so.
It had better happen soon. The Pelicans now embark on a tough five-game road trip, starting Friday in Denver before continuing in Oklahoma City and San Antonio, Phoenix and Golden State. It will be difficult finding one win, much less two, if the defensive effort does not ramp up. All are good teams, with the exception of the Suns.
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