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New Orleans Pelicans hack away, still fall to Houston Rockets 121-114

That was not pleasant.

No foul.
No foul.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans received good news early in the third quarter as the Indiana Pacers dropped the Oklahoma City Thunder. As the quarter wound down a Pelican lead stretched to nine with the score 80-71. The wheels then came off and the Rockets erased the lead and real Pelican hopes of sealing a playoff appearance on Monday evening.

James Harden feasted at the rim for four straight minutes as the Pelican defense did not provide an iota of resistance. Harden made four layups in the final three minutes of the quarter and assisted on a Pablo Prigioni three. It is no coincidence that each of those drives came after Omer Asik left the floor in favor of Ryan Anderson. It was less about Anderson's admitedly weak defense than the non-existent rim protection provided by Anthony Davis all game long. Davis never rotated over to provide even token resistance, choosing to stay glued to his man.

Coming out of the break between quarters Corey Brewer and Dwight Howard took over and the Rocket lead quickly grew to nine points. The only Pelican to answer back in that four minute stretch was Jrue Holiday with five points of his own. After a timeout Gordon and Holiday made back-to-back 3-pointers to trim the Houston lead to five points. Josh Smith (yes, Josh Smith) answered with a three of his own.

Hack-A-Player Fails

Monty Williams, admittedly not a fan of the strategy, went to the hacking strategy relatively early in the fourth. Josh Smith attempted seven free throws in the fourth quarter and Dwight Howard followed with six of his own. Those two combined to go 7-13 from the line. Earlier in the first quarter the Pelicans sent Joey Dorsey, shooting 26.6% from the line this season, to the line to create a two-for-one situation. He sunk both shots.

The play, by the numbers, is a sound one. Not just because those players shoot poorly from the line. The Pelicans were a mess defensively most of the night. New Orleans was also down quite a handful of points when they got started and the hacking strategy lengthens the game. One especially poor demonstration of execution occurred when Ryan Anderson went to hack Josh Smith, did so rather loosely, and a running Smith hook turned into a three point play opportunity.

Mark Davis Strikes Again

Mark Davis, Official #8, had himself a game tonight. In the first quarter an Evans layup attempt struck the backboard first and was then blocked by Dwight Howard. No call. The below play was called off of Jrue Holiday.

It was so bad Joel Meyers had issues with the officiating on numerous occassions. Unlike us, he keeps a much more level head about these things.

Had a Chance

While the officiating obvious did not help it did not decide the game. If the Pelicans raise even a little defense at the rim instead of spectating they have a chance. If they make open 3-pointers at a respectable clip New Orleans could have won this game. Quincy Pondexter, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Anderson went 8-22 behind the arc and a great majority of those attempts were really, really open.

Anthony Davis was simply a non-factor on defense. The stat sheet shows a pretty typical Davis performance; 27 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and just 1 turnover. Sounds MVP-esque. "Didn't rotate over to help teammates, resulting in layup" is not a stat we find in even the most advanced box score. Davis racked up a hand full of these tonight. Rather than force a more difficult layup for (oftentimes) James Harden AD elected to stay cemented to the block where ever his man was standing.

This game was ultimately decided by seven points. The goal tend miss or assuming the correct out-of-bounds call here or there changes the margin and how the final minutes play out. The Pelicans MVP, a supposed All-Defensive Team candidate, leaving his teammates hanging out to dry against James Harden to take away Terrence Jones or Josh Smith is a far bigger issue in my mind.

Is he trying to avoid fouls? Is he just late in recognizing something which occurs with stunning frequency on the Pelican perimeter? I guess we hope for the former? The Pelicans have a serious issue defending the rim. Davis, a super long, super athletic big man stationed on the block when penetration begins should alleviate some of those issues. Instead his reluctance to rotate is compounding the problem.

Bright Spot

Jrue Holiday is really starting to look good. He scored 17 points in just 15 minutes while attempting only nine shots. His in-between game, knocking down various runners and pull up jumpers below the foul line, takes advantage of defenses collapsing on Davis rolls to the basket. No other Pelican guard, save for maybe Norris Cole, has that shot in their tool box. Cole's is far less reliable.

As noted above, the Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the Indiana Pacers. During the game Russell Westbrook received his 16th technical foul. Should that stand (and the Thunder will assuredly appeal) Westbrook will be suspended for Monday's game at home against the Portland Trail Blazers. Westbrook has already had one technical foul rescinded this season.

Two games remain and the Pelican magic number is two. Win and you're in remains in sight. The Minnesota Timberwolves are up next tomorrow night at 7 pm.