A quick scan of the box score or giving more credence to the second half rather than the first would lead one to believe the New Orleans Pelicans might be turning the proverbial corner. It's true, their 26-point win was by far their most lopsided victory of the season. After a 1-11 start, the team has gone 8-8 since. A couple of better finishes in games, say against the Bulls and these same Blazers in Portland, and the team would be flying even that much higher.
Things are pointing up, but don't forget where the team started from: the depths of despair after losing nearly every game to start the season. In addition, problems remain and they didn't vanish after just one game. The offense still isn't playing with the desired pace, and the defense surrenders too many points, regardless in wins or losses. For instance, the Pelicans gave up 22 offensive rebounds tonight. Yes, the Trail Blazers missed so many shots that it was inevitable they were going to tally a double digit number of offensive boards, but 22 is borderline depressing. It led to 25 points for a team that had no business staying in the game for as long as they did.
No, we're not going to berate the team much for a lack of controlling the glass, but I want fans to realize the Pelicans did not play a perfect game. As late as the 4-minute mark of the second quarter, the Pelicans enjoyed a mere 2-point lead. Despite the little resistance in the lane, New Orleans had missed 12 of their first 14 shots from beyond the arc. Why that number wasn't smaller when the shooting was ice cold is anyone's guess. On top of the weak perimeter game, the Pelicans missed a slew of shots at the rim. By my count, they missed or were rejected 10 times within a 3 or 4 foot circle around the hoop.
In the past, long stretches of inefficiency have usually put this team into inescapable holes. They were fortunate the Blazers were just as inept on offense and that Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon had gotten off to reasonable good starts because a very much different style of play could have resulted had the Pelicans found themselves needing to dig out of a sizable deficit.
In his post-game comments, Alvin Gentry stated, "This team here is really good. C.J. McCollum is a very underrated player. He can go get his own shot and do a lot of things."
Let's recall the Blazers were without Damian Lillard and wrapping up 5-game road trip without the addition of a single win to their record. Portland's starting lineup of C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Al-Farouq Aminu, Noah Vonleh and Mason Plumlee had played just 5 minutes together before entering the Smoothie King Center.
During the game, Aminu unraveled after picking up a technical foul and an offensive foul. Plumlee attempted to dribble way too much for a 7 footer surrounded by quick guards. And the first possession out of halftime, the Trail Blazers were whistled for a 24 second shot clock violation. Don't think they missed their high usage floor general much?
For the first time this season, the Pelicans faced a squad as unmotivated as they have themselves been at several times through the first 28 games. The win was nice, the final score even nicer, but keep a level head. The Pelicans didn't shred even an average opponent, nor did they show any dominating behavior through most of the 1st half.
- In Gentry's comments, his voice started with great enthusiasm when describing the play of Tyreke Evans; however, by the time he finished his train of thought, he was searching for words. "Thought Tyreke did a great job of really kind of...uhh...upping the tempo, some." There's no denying it, Evans is still miles from where the coaching staff wants him to be in regards of the ball movement. Even David Wesley and Joel Meyers made mention of a specific play where Evans held the ball in one corner for too long of a period, thereby allowing the Portland defense to get into perfect formation; however, he and the Pelicans were bailed out by a long Ryan Anderson three.
- Norris Cole continues to play with a confidence as though he's one of the most important players on the team, but the performances rarely support his usage. In his first six minutes of the game, he had five shot attempts, making just one. His intensity is nice, but just as Alonso Gee rarely plays beyond his capabilities, shouldn't Norris Cole learn to tone it down some too?
- Ryan Anderson got off to a terrible start: 0-3, 2 turnovers and 1 technical foul. There is no doubt he was fouled at least once, but he has to learn to keep a level head. Missed calls are a part of the game, and when a player is struggling while begging for help from the referees, they are less likely to receive it.
- Jrue Holiday continues to look like an All-Star caliber player. I feel his confidence and athletic ability have never worked in better unison while wearing a New Orleans jersey. After the game, Gentry claimed Holiday will stay in his reserve role once his remaining restrictions are lifted after the New Year, but it won't affect the number of minutes he'll play. Which leads me to my final point...
- The Pelicans starting lineup remains a bad combination. Despite their competition, Evans-Gordon-Gee-Davis-Ask got off to another questionable start as the offense was disjointed on seemingly half the early possessions. They were down 10-7 to the Blazers, and had it not been for Gordon aggressively looking for his shot in the first quarter, they might have not enjoyed re-taking the lead nearly so quickly.
The Pelicans will travel to Miami to play in the NBA's opening Christmas Day game. They will be riding as high as they have all season, winners of three of their last four. Conversely, the Heat have lost 2 of their last 3 and are 5-5 in their last 10 games. Look for the full preview tomorrow. Geaux Pelicans!