Pelicans make strong first impression by running past Rockets
I have always been one to rely on my gut instincts. When in doubt, it is time to rely on first impressions.
If first impressions truly matter, the New Orleans Pelicans are going to be a contender in the very tough Western Conference of the NBA.
What else could you possibly conclude after last night’s 131-112 demolition of an elite team in the Houston Rockets on the road?
Last year, the Rockets took Golden State to seven games in the Western Conference finals and perhaps would have won had Chris Paul played in game seven.
Virtually everyone has Houston as the second best team in the west this season, behind the Warriors.
Houston, which was second in the league in scoring a year ago at 112.4 points per game, added Carmelo Anthony to its arsenal.
Granted, he is nowhere near the same player he was a few years ago and he was more of a liability than an asset to Oklahoma City a year ago and the Rockets look like a lesser team this year, further away from Golden State, rather than closer to the Warriors.
Still, the expectation by some is that the Rockets have even more firepower this season.
Of course, we must consider that the Pelicans were third in the league in scoring a year ago, tied with Toronto at 111.7 points per game and they were first after the injury to DeMarcus Cousins and the addition of Niko Mirotic.
Now, you can add Julius Randle and even Elfrid Payton to the mix and you have an even more potent offense.
Last night in Houston, that offense was on full display.
Keep in mind that Houston’s worst loss last season was by 19 points. That was equaled Wednesday night on a night where James Harden received his MVP trophy.
The MVP on this night was perhaps the MVP in the NBA this season in Anthony Davis but he had a lot of help.
Davis, who has a new agent, a new attitude and new teammates, was simply sensational but what else is new?
He went for 32 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists.
Mirotic was terrific, hitting his first six 3-point attempts, finishing 6-of-8 with 30 points and 10 rebounds. Randle came off the bench for 23 points, eight rebounds and three assists and E’Twaun Moore had 21 points.
Then, there was the new conductor who struck up a terrific tune.
Hometown hero Elfrid Payton of John Ehret went for a triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
It was exactly what the Pelicans needed from Payton.
He is not a good shooter and is not likely to improve much in that department.
He is a good penetrator with good vision and good length.
Rajon Rondo was a good leader and penetrator with good vision. He could not shoot, either, and did not have the length, the youth or the ability to guard that Payton has.
While Payton lacked defensively a year ago, he has the ability to defend.
Perhaps the only negative was the lack of bench productivity outside of Randle as Darius Miller did not score and Solomon Hill had three points as Alvin Gentry went with a short rotation. Is Hill really the best option off the bench up front?
Ultimately, another player must emerge.
Perhaps it will be Frank Jackson. Maybe Jahlil Okafor, who is battling back from a sprained ankle, will be that guy. Cheick Diallo can still provide energy. Ian Clark has played effectively previously. Tim Frazier was acquired as insurance at guard.
What you had to love was that New Orleans built a 29-point lead and coasted to an easy win against a good team on the road. The Pelicans drilled the Rockets 54-37 on the boards. They forced 21 turnovers. They shot 53 percent from the field while holding the potent Rockets to just 42 percent.
New Orleans shared the ball beautifully, unselfishly, making the extra pass all night long. The Pelicans scored 76 points in the paint. They appear to have great chemistry. They played good defense.
Now comes a four-game homestand, beginning Friday night against lowly Sacramento, who should be a bottom-feeder in the West. That will be followed by games against the Clippers and Brooklyn. New Orleans will be favored in all three of those games so there is a real chance to jump out to a 4-0 start. A mature team will take care of its business.
Then comes a home game against one of the best teams in the West in Utah, a team the Pelicans did not match up well against a year ago.
It is imperative to start fast because a brutal five-game western road swing follows against five straight playoff teams from a year ago in Denver, Golden State, Portland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
If the Pelicans have a memorable season, we will all look back to the first impression made last night.
- < PREV Pelicans throttle Rockets to open regular season, 131-112
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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…