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New Orleans Pelicans play their hearts out but come up just short in loss against Houston Rockets, 130-123

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Simply an outstanding effort by the undermanned and tired Pelicans squad.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Houston Rockets Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

What an incredible effort.

With no Anthony Davis, no Dante Cunningham, no Jameer Nelson, no Tony Allen, and as it bore out, no reliable performers on the bench, the woefully undermanned New Orleans Pelicans very nearly pulled off the biggest of upsets against the Houston Rockets, a division rival sporting the best record in the league.

“They’re really good,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “They’re really good. You can see why they have the best record in the league. I thought we did everything that we had to do to try and put us in the position to win.”

The final score of 130-123 hinted a track meet and it most certainly was through much of the contest. The biggest revelation, though, was the fact that the Pelicans were beating the Rockets at their own game well into the second half by shooting and hitting three-pointer after three-pointer.

With 2:49 to go in the third quarter, New Orleans held a 101-88 lead over Houston. At that point, the Pelicans had made an astounding 17 of their 28 three-point attempts; the Rockets, 10 of 30 attempts. Houston was able to stay within striking distance because New Orleans decided to give up looks the rim — as evidenced by Clint Capela making 10 of 11 field goal attempts inside the restricted area.

“All those Capela lobs, you have to give up,” said Gentry. “You either give that up or you pull in and that’s where you get a bunch of threes.”

In his postgame comments, Gentry said the coaching staff had decided upon this strategy because statistics pointed to the call. Unfortunately for New Orleans, data couldn’t save the team from another enemy — tired legs began to give way to missed shots, turnovers and a lack of the sparkling offensive movement witnessed earlier in the game.

The Pelicans were on the second night of a back-to-back and playing for the seventh time in December; Houston had Sunday off and was playing for just the fourth time this month.

As mentioned above, New Orleans was without a number of key personnel, which forced Gentry to play an 8-man rotation that included Omer Asik, Ian Clark and Jalen Jones off the bench. That trio combined for three meager points. On the other hand, Mike D’Antoni was afforded the luxury of last season’s Sixth Man of the Year, Eric Gordon, to go along with Nene Hilario, P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute off his bench. Those four combined for 33 points.

Yep, Houston reserves outscored New Orleans group by 30 points and the final margin of the game was seven. Asked whether the Pelicans ran out of bodies, Gentry didn’t downplay the notion.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Houston Rockets Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

“Yeah, we did, we did,” said Gentry. “We asked a lot of DeMarcus to play the minutes that he played and be in a game where it’s an open court game. I thought he did a great job. In the second half, his defense was great in the pick-and-roll. To hold that team to 18 points in the third quarter is about as good as you can ever hope for. And then obviously Harden and CP3 closed out the game. They’re both great players. We had an opportunity and couldn’t quite get it done.”

Chris Paul catching fire in the second half hurt and James Harden’s line of 26 points and 17 assists can’t be dismissed either. The end result was another L in the loss column, but knowledgeable fans understand the Pelicans deserve nothing but applause.

“The only thing that hurt us was we had a few breakdowns defensively, but for the most part, we did a really good job — just mismatches, cross-matches in transition,” said Gentry. “I couldn’t be happier with the effort.”

Indeed.

Game Notes

  • E’Twaun Moore set new career highs in points (36) and made three-pointers (6), and Jrue Holiday finished with a season high of 37 points. After the game, Gentry acknowledged the duo was great but added they’ve been playing great thanks to a high degree of confidence.
  • Rajon Rondo recorded his first triple-double of the season, finishing with a line of 13 points, 12 assists and 12 rebounds. Also, he made three of five threes, marking his seventh straight contest with at least one made triple.
  • DeMarcus Cousins totaled 24 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists and a couple of threes, yet it wasn’t enough for many fans. The naysayers pointed to a lot of the offense in the final frame running through Boogie that resulted in a high number of empty possessions; however, that’s probably not the right take. T-I-R-E-D L-E-G-S. Rondo, Holiday and Moore had very little, if nothing at all, left in the tank. I mean, I don’t remember seeing cuts, beating their men off the dribble and generally great movement in that fourth quarter, do you?
  • The Pelicans started out the game by making 14 of their first 18 three-point attempts.
  • After scoring 44 points in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers last night, the Pelicans dropped a 41-point bomb on the Rockets in tonight’s opening quarter.
  • The Pelicans 76 first half points was a season high.
  • The Rockets finished with nearly twice as many free throw attempts as the Pelicans (25-13), and that was puzzling. Down the stretch, the Rockets were allowed to be incredibly physical with Cousins, often reaching, grabbing or downright pushing him. Holiday once again seemed deserving of several more trips to the foul line.

Up next, the New Orleans Pelicans will face the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo on Wednesday inside the Smoothie King Center, before the team embarks on a four-game road trip. See you there!