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Pelicans still left looking for answers after latest loss to Mavericks

New Orleans is trying to figure out how to put together 48 minutes of good basketball. Mission impossible?

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Through six games, we're certain of one thing: the Pelicans defense remains too shoddy to give the team a legitimate chance to win, possibly against any team in the NBA. It hasn't mattered whether the Pelicans have played the Warriors, the Trail Blazers or the Mavericks. It's scary but conceivable the Lakers or the Sixers could be included in that group.

At any given time, the defensive failures are numerous and frequent. New Orleans goes through sustained lulls, breakdown upon breakdown, into which they dig themselves such a hole they cannot recover. 43 points in the first quarter up in Portland. 63 points to the Hawks in the 2nd half. And tonight, 65 points were scored by the Mavericks after halftime. An ugly pattern exists.

During the first half, the Mavericks seemed to miss every open perimeter shot, including ones that left Dirk Nowitzki's hands. However, Dallas kept within striking distance because of the plenty of conversions inside the restricted area. After Alexis Ajinca sat down in the first quarter, the Mavericks scored 16 points in the paint during the second portion of the quarter. It continued into the second frame as well as evidenced by 24 of their first 38 points coming from in close.

Sadly, the Mavericks didn't have to work too hard for the easy scores. Often times a simple pick and roll or ball reversal would free up the necessary space. For instance, take this play where Dante Cunningham plays some ole-defense while Ryan Anderson thinks it's not his job to leave the deadly shooting Jeremy Evans!

In his post-game comments, Alvin Gentry did not deny any of the Pelicans shortcomings, especially on the defensive end.

"We're playing hard, we're not always playing smart. We've got to play hard and smart. We've got to do a better job defensively. We have got to do a better job of keeping people in front of us, a better job in rotations, pulling in when guys are going towards the basket."

Although the Pelicans were playing their second game of a back-to-back while short-handed (a total of 9 players were available), Gentry denies fatigue was a factor. Anthony Davis supported this notion.

Due to all the injuries, there are no easy answers. However, the current active roster does need to lock in defensively and continue to improve their offensive flow. Until help arrives, it is their responsible to keep the Pelicans season afloat, which game after game, becomes a little harder to believe true.

Game Notes

  • As mentioned in the quick recap, Anthony Davis had a nice statistical game (25, 6, 4), but he was noticeably less active defensively and on the glass from just 24 hours ago. In the first half, he landed on Dwight Powell's foot after blocking his shot and appeared to significantly hurt his ankle. Thankfully, he was able to walk it off, but perhaps that play or the fact that he went ballistic against Atlanta Friday night might have zapped his ability or stamina. It's good to hear him take responsibility, but it doesn't explain away the lapses he continues to show on the defensive end.
  • Ryan Anderson scored 15 points in close to his 16 minutes of playing time in the first half, but was largely a non-factor following halftime. Although he has nowhere near the potential of Davis, there exists room for improvement of morphing into a smarter defender: putting forth a better defensive effort by keeping his arms up in an active position, reducing his tunnel vision and generally being more aware peripherally, and visibly communicating with teammates.
  • Like the two prior Pelicans, Gordon had a solid line, but I can't help but feel with each game that passes, he misses a golden opportunity to do a little more. Tonight his playmaking was better, but with the Mavericks lacking true rim defenders for most of the night, he needed to find a way to get to the rim. During the preseason he averaged 8.2 FTA per 36 minutes. That number is down to 3.0 through 6 games of the regular season. With the return of Tyreke Evans and a stronger Jrue Holiday fast approaching, his window of opportunity is closing and perhaps his long-term future with the franchise.
  • Some were adamant for more minutes for Alexis Ajinca, yet I can understand Gentry's reluctance. As a general paint presence, the Frenchman can provide assistance; however, once opponents focus attacking him directly, his faults emerge. Ajinca made Zaza Pachulia look like Tim Duncan on this play. That was a certifiable train wreck. Now imagine if Pachulia was actually Duncan... Omer Asik can't return quickly enough.
  • Ish Smith started in place of Jrue Holiday and at the start of the game, he helped the Pelicans jump out to a quick 15-8 lead. He was forced to sit, though, after picking up 2 quick personal fouls. Once he returned, the Mavericks had him figured out, allowing him to shoot from nearly any part of the floor. Smart move.

  • Outside of Davis, Gordon and Anderson, the remaining six healthy Pelicans were much too ineffective. They combined to score just 31 points on 13 of 38 (34.2%) from the field. That is NOT going to get it done, but therein lies the rub. Until a few of the injured players return, the Pelicans have to continue to rely on this group. At the very least, Alonzo Gee and Toney Douglas showed moments of solid defense. Can something positive carryover from one game to the next?

Whether Dell Demps deserves to be admonished for the back end of the bench, we'll save that for another day, but the fact of the matter is the current point guard mess was unavoidable. There is a reason why Nate Robinson, Bo McCalebb, Toney Douglas and Ish Smith could be brought to New Orleans at a moment's notice. Uptempo teams require stability in the back court, and the Pelicans have had anything but, all the while as the team is still learning a brand new offense and defense.

Like you, I'm tired of the excuses. Losing sucks. A lack of effort or proper defensive techniques should not be this far behind the 8-ball. For all his faults, Monty Williams could always get his team to play with maximum effort, or have his squads at least take something away defensively.

Nah, let's stop here. Opening up a can of worms 6 games into a season with a handful of key players out is not an advisable direction. Let's hope, though, the Pelicans can figure out at least one or two things before they face this very beatable Mavericks squad come next Tuesday. It'd be nice to write about a win for a change.