Pelicans fire early, fizzle late in home exhibition loss to Bulls
NEW ORLEANS — Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins combined for 44 points and 20 rebounds but the New Orleans Pelicans’ second unit struggled to hold on to an 11-point halftime lead in a preseason opening 113-109 loss Tuesday to the Chicago Bulls at Smoothie King Center.
The Pelicans opened the game by scoring 46 points, scoring primarily through their low post tandem. Davis and Cousins scored 24 points in the period and grabbed nine of 14 New Orleans rebounds.
“I thought we got off to a good start,” said Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry. “I thought we were playing with force and pushing the basketball, moving the basketball.”
Rajon Rondo was effective as a distributor in his Crescent City debut, handing out eight assists with only two turnovers in 31 minutes, but he struggled with his shot in a 2-for-7 performance. Jrue Holiday was solid with 11 points, three assists and two boards.
The Pelicans led 69-56 late in the second quarter before Chicago opened a 21-7 run to take the lead at 77-76 with just over five minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Bulls outscored the Pelicans 55-40 in the second half.
“I thought we started over dribbling mayble a little much in the second quarter,” Gentry added. “We stopped making cuts, which kind of slowed down the offense and then I thought, defensively, our transition defense wasn’t very good.”
“We have to do a better job of getting everyone back so that we can pick up. We were scrambling too much in our transition defense, really the last three quarters.”
Chicago also finished with eight players in double figures, led by Christiano Felicio’s 15. Justin Holiday, brother of Jrue, added 14 points and four assists.
The Bulls outshot the Pelicans 51 percent to 47 percent, including making nearly 58 percent of their attempts in the second half. New Orleans connected on just 17-of-44 attempts (38.6 percent) after the break.
Defending and making the three-point shot were both struggles for the Pelicans. Chicago went 16-for-35 from distance (45.7%) while New Orleans was limited to 31.3% for the game.
“Communication is a big part of what we have to improve on as a team,” said Anthony Davis. We did a pretty good job in the first, and after that communication went down a bit. I have to watch the film to see the breakdowns we had; I know they had a lot of open threes.”
The Pelicans were able to dominate at the free throw line, outscoring Chicago 25-9 at the charity stripe. Last season New Orleans averaged 23 free throw attempts per game. Again it was Davis and Cousins leading the way, making 18 of those 25 shots.
The full roster didn’t play, but there were some noticable standouts in the reserve unit. E’Twaun Moore scored 16 points in 21 minutes (4-6 on three pointers), and Ian Clark added 11 on 5-of-8 shooting. However, the rest of the bench combined to shoot 6-of-18 from the floor.
Overall, it was an uneven debut. The team’s strengths, particularly the dominance of Davis and Cousins, were evident. The Pels will have to get better defensively, particularly in transition, and on the offensive glass.
“The big thing that we have to establish is consistency,” said Gentry. “It’s a little bit crazy because we played so well in the first quarter; 47 points is a lot of points to get in a quarter in any situation, especially when you’re walking out and playing your first preseason game.”
“We would like to have somewhere in the middle of that and then we would like to have something the last three quarters where we’re somewhere, I mean we have to be a little higher than those quarters because I don’t think we played the level that we would have to in order to win basketball games.”
It was just game one of a truncated preseason, so there’s no need to get to high or too low based on the result. But with a season based solely on winning right now, the gelling process will have to speed up with just two weeks and three exhibitions contests left to prepare. The unforgiving opening stretch that looms with the start of the season requires a Pelicans team firing on all cylinders to survive.
Now it’s time for Gentry and his team to get under the hood and have this team ready to roll by the regular season opener on Oct. 18 in Memphis.
The Pelicans face the Oklahoma City Thunder in their next preseason game on Friday, Oct. 6 in OKC.
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Sports 1280am host/CCS reporter
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…