The Pelicans, despite making several strong runs, never felt like they had much control of the game. This was especially true when the Wizards best players were all on the court together.
It was a rough start for the Pelicans as they allowed the Wizards to build an early 9-0 lead thanks to some sputtery offense and spotty defense. It wasn’t until 9:34, when Dante Cunningham scored on a offensive rebound in the baseline over Gortat that the Pels scored their first basket. That would, somehow, break whatever was blocking the Pels baskets from going in as they promptly racked up 3 straight baskets to close the gap, 13-9.
But John Wall — bigger, faster and a better facilitator than Jrue Holiday — showed his All-Star form. After missing a wide open three, setup by a Marcin Gortat tap out, Wall set up Markieff Morris for a dunk, hit a difficult step back jumper and then set up Bradley Beal up on a 3v3 fastbreak to wrestle control out of the Pels hands, giving Washington a 19-9 lead.
New Orleans was able to climb out of the hole they got themselves into early in the 1st when they cut the lead to four points, 32-28, early in the 2nd. They were able to catch up, primarily because it was a battle of benches. But once the Wizards’ starters subbed back in -- first it was Beal (when the Pels cut the lead to four) and then Wall (midway through the 2nd after seizing the momentum from the struggling Pels) — Washington quickly regained control.
That was the story of the game for me: the Pelicans just never really felt in control. Even after they took the lead, a 1-point edge late in the 3rd, the Pels needed all of Anthony Davis — he scored 12 of the Pelicans last 15 points in the 3rd — to even sniff a negligible lead. The Wizards backcourt did hit a lot of tough midrange jumpers: Wall was 5 of 9, while Beal was 4 of 4 (the rest of the team was 4 of 13 by my count). That made it appear the defense was at fault, but it really wasn’t that awful. The Wizards just kept hitting shots even when the Pels D started tightening up.
The biggest issue was the offense, particularly: the turnovers and the Pelicans inability to hit easy shots. The Wizards capitalized on turnovers, scoring 18 points off 14 turnovers (compared to 10 points off 10 turnovers for New Orleans).
And give credit where credit is due: the Wizards perimeter defense was excellent, choking off passing lanes and making the bigs uncomfortable when they got the mismatch in the post. It helps that Wall, Beal and Otto Porter are long and quick, allowing the Wizards to play aggressively on the weak side.
But more frustrating is the Pels inability to hit shots, most importantly, uncontested shots. The Pels, as a team, were 13 of 44 (29.5 percent), on uncontested shots. We can excuse AD and Jrue, who both hit more of their contested shots than their uncontested ones, but the rest of the group?
Buddy Hield was 0-5 from the field, three of those were uncontested. Solomon Hill was 2-8 on uncontested shots. Terrence Jones missed a bunch of bunnies. The Pels offense looked “fine”; they were running their sets well, making solid reads and taking the right shots. They just weren’t making them. A few games into the season and that’s ok. Or if it’s an uncommon occurrence. But with more than half the season in a bag filled with plenty of other duds?
That’s the most frustrating kind of losses — you never felt in control but you know they could have wrestled it if they just made shots (depending on where you stand, this may be luck or skill). But they didn’t make them. It’s a simplistic approach to the game but that’s what it felt like.
I’m not mad about the Wizards registering a 113 ORTG —outside of the silly turnovers that led to easy fastbreak points, the Pels D was pretty solid. I’m mad and frustrated about the Pels offense. A team that features heavy doses of AD and Holiday, with a solid bench (Galloway, Moore and Jones are a solid group offensive group off the bench) should NOT rank 5th to last on offense. The worst case should be somewhere in the lower half of the middle third (somewhere between 16-20), but being in the lower half of the last third?
Unacceptable and frustrating at the same time.
Sunday’s game was a good chance for the Pels to close the gap for the 8th spot in the Western Conference, but splitting the home stand with a 3-3 record after beating the Cavaliers and Spurs feels like a failed effort. If the team ever wanted a chance to challenge for 8th, they ideally needed a 5-1 finish. A 4-2 finish, a much more realistic target, was within reach, but that Brooklyn loss, in particular, will sting for some time.
It will be interesting to see what general manager Dell Demps does in the coming weeks, with the trade deadline fast approaching. Hopefully, he pulls of a miracle, dropping salary while not trading anything in terms of great assets.
That would probably be the biggest win in the Pels season filled with disappointments.