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Pelicans vs Rockets Part Deux: Time for the defense to show improvement

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Watch for adjustments from both coaching staffs — the stronger alterations could wind up dictating the outcome.

NBA: Preseason-Indiana Pacers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans (1-2) will battle the Houston Rockets (3-0) for a second time in less than a week, tipping off at the same time (6:30am central) and on the same channel (NBAtv). About the only visible difference early Wednesday morning will be the environment, as the venue shifts from Shanghai to Beijing.

In case you missed it, Sunday’s contest ended in a 123-117 loss. The Pelicans were ahead by 4 points with just 3 minutes remaining, but the team failed to maintain the lead. Granted, it must be mentioned that the Rockets starters played an additional 34 minutes, and James Harden, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson all finished the game. Conversely, the Pelicans closed things out with E’Twaun Moore, Buddy Hield, Lance Stephenson, Dante Cunningham and Omer Asik.

Speaking of Asik, his final boxscore line was most impressive: 14 points, 14 rebounds, 5 blocks and he connected on 6-8 of his free throw attempts. It forced Anthony Davis to rave about the much-maligned center in his post-game comments.

“Omer has been playing awesome: making free throws, playing great defensively, rebounding the ball and blocking shots.”

Despite the effusive praise, the Pelicans defense as a whole finished with a 113.3 defensive rating. For comparison’s sake, last season’s team posted a 107.3 DRtg overall.

The front office’s mission over the summer was to improve that side of the ball. On paper, they did, but the results most certainly failed to follow a few days ago.

A strong argument can be made that New Orleans defense has failed to live up to any of the promised hype so far in preseason. Through three games, the defensive rating sits at 110.1, and that includes a matchup against the Dallas Mavericks cupcake team.

A quick look through some opponent shooting statistics on NBA.com reveals a troublesome story. The Pelicans have given up the fifth most attempts in the restricted area, accompanied with a healthy conversion rate by opponents (62.6%), and allowed the most three-point attempts from above the break, which opponents have converted at a 40% clip.

That’s. No. Bueno.

Look, I get it’s been just three games, all the newcomers are still gelling and ... you know what, I’m already disliking the fact we need to make excuses. The Rockets had a dumpster fire of a defensive lineup on the floor often yet managed to walk away with a 107.6 defensive rating for the game.

To further illustrate my point, Houston limited the Pelicans to a 33.3 FG% on 21 three-point attempts (Rockets had 37). And in general, their team has done a great job of limiting opponents’ makes and attempts from the three-point line throughout the exhibition season.

The games do not count yet, but the numbers are discouraging. The Pelicans need to ratchet things up and show the fans they’re not planning to repeat last season’s woeful rendition in the very near future.