The all bench unit tried to make things interesting, giving up a 12-0 run to begin the fourth quarter. There are legitimate reasons Monty has that unit on the court with a 20 point lead at that point. He wants to build confidence in different groupings of players. That specific group; Gal Mekel, Austin Rivers, Dante Cunningham, Ryan Anderson, and Alexis Ajinca has logged a minuscule amount of minutes together (Mekel and Cunningham JUST joined the team) and Monty is still searching for effective combinations off the bench. These are all reasonable "big picture" explanations for this game not turning into a dominant blowout for the Pels.
Reasonable people can disagree with the approach, as I do. However, I want to recognize that Monty Williams has well-thought out reasons for his strategy tonight in the second half. I would rather he played the starters and run the Lakers out of the gym first. There are solid reasons for each approach.
Bad news out of the way, let's get to the good.
A couple of Pelican shooters who have struggled in December saw the ball go through the hoop tonight. Jrue Holiday had missed eight consecutive threes against the Thunder, Warriors, and Clippers. He made four of five attempts beyond the arc; contributing to his most efficient performance since the Minnesota fire-fest.
Ryan Anderson was not as prolific as he is capable, but poured in 11 points (2-5 behind the arc) and 10 rebounds in just 27 minutes. The number of WIDE OPEN threes the Pelicans created tonight was impressive. For the game the Pelicans shot a scorching 59% (23-39) on uncontested shots according to the NBA Stats box score. A far cry from their struggles in recent games. For the game the Pelicans went 8-18 behind the three point line. Holiday (4), Anderson (2), and Babbitt (2) all contributed.
Luke Babbitt's contribution as the starter at SF appears small (6 points, 5 rebounds) but I continue to think he is critical to the team's success this season. He moves to the right spots, is willing to make the extra pass, and is generally willing to take open shots. So far this season Babbitt is shooting 59.3% (16/27) behind the arc this season and 42.6% (52/122) since coming to the Pelicans last season. That is without mentioning some of the solid defense he provided on Kobe Bryant tonight.
Babbitt unfortunately went out with a knee sprain late in the fourth quarter. Monty Williams did not have any details on the injury in his post game interview on Fox Sports New Orleans.
Monty on status of Luke Babbitt (knee): "We're not sure yet. The initial diagnosis is a sprain. He’s going to get some testing done."— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) December 8, 2014
As an aside, are you curious how the Pelicans are faring from the different parts of the floor?
Kobe Bryant, Volume Lacking Efficiency
The refs tonight swallowed the whistle a lot. Both teams attempted 15 free throws a piece and just 29 total personal fouls were called. This effected Kobe Bryant more than anyone else as he was routinely stifled by Pelican defenders going straight up against his forays into the paint. Kobe was notably upset with the officials on a number of misses. He finished the game with 14 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 turnovers. Bryant shot just 6-18 from the field.
New Orleans accomplished this with a number of defenders. Tyreke Evans did some time on Bryant but Babbitt, Dante Cunningham, and Jrue Holiday all saw some time guarding number 24. Bryant struggled the most against Babbitt (6'9") and Cunningham (6'8"). Monty Williams might be onto something here guarding an aging Kobe with larger albeit less athletic wings. Those legs don't have as much spring in them as they once did.
Beat Bad Teams
The Pelicans are not yet a good basketball team. But, they are beginning to demonstrate an important quality found in good teams; beating the tar out of bad teams. New Orleans has played eight games against opponents below .500 this season. They have won seven of those eight games by an average score of 108.5 to 96.3. All seven wins were solid; by at least seven points and not in doubt in the final moments. This does not mean the Pelicans are "good" yet, simply that they are showing one critical characteristic of a good team.
Chris Cucchiara wrote about the Anatomy of a Western Conference Playoff Team earlier in the season. Beating up on bad teams is a critical component of getting into the playoffs.
The major difference between playoff teams from the West and the non-playoff teams were how they performed against teams that were under .500. All of the playoff teams, except the Rockets, won at least 75% of their games versus sub .500 teams.
In my analysis, I wanted to find out what the biggest difference was between the T’Wolves (10th seed in the west) and the playoff teams since there was a nine game win difference between them and the eight seed.
The T’Wolves went 23-12 versus sub .500 teams which accounted for seven less wins than the seventh and eighth seeds.
The problem is nobody can predict which teams will finish the season under .500. Can it still be expected the Kings will have a losing record? Nevertheless, there will be enough teams that finish with more losses than wins for the Pelicans to prey upon. Thus, let’s shoot for 30 wins versus sub .500 teams in the 2014-15 season.
7-1 is exceeding expectations against bad teams this early in the season. The blowout losses to the Clippers and Warriors standout. Giving up what appeared to be a solid lead to the Blazers stands out. These are all rightfully considered bad losses. Squandering opportunities like the Portland game or just appearing to lack necessary quality is burned into a fan's memory.
Remember, though, that the Pelicans have had two West Coast road trips so far. In those seven games (three of which were on the back side of back-to-backs) New Orleans in 3-4. Just sticking near .500 on the road in the Western Conference might be sufficient if Anthony Davis and company can take care off business at home and against bad teams. 7-1 against teams under .500 and 5-2 at home is a good start.
Anthony Davis Watch
Davis was stunningly efficient again. He scored 23 points on 11-15 shooting with 6 blocks, 2 blocks, and a steal. The first possession of the game was an isolation post up for AD on the left block. He missed. All 11 makes by Davis tonight were assisted by Pelican guards. Jrue Holiday led the way with 7 assists (of his 8) going to AD while Rivers and Tyreke both set up Davis twice.
Davis' sudden disappearance on the glass is more perplexing. In the last two games he has accumulated just nine rebounds in 65 minutes. AD has been held below eight rebounds just three times all season. The last two games comprise 66% of that total. He has just one offensive rebound in the Staples Center this season. That's weird.
Not everything was solved tonight. New Orleans took care of business as fans expected against a dreadful Laker team. Remember that taking care of business is a sign of a good team; even if the Pelicans are not good yet.