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New Orleans Pelicans fall apart in fourth quarter, extend losing streak to four in 134-119 loss to Trailblazers

The Pelicans fought hard again on the road, but lacked the shooting and man power to pull through.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Injuries are a huge part of professional sports, but they suck. Some franchises are luckier than others, while many feel the Pelicans are snakebitten. This isn’t the time for doom and gloom yet though, as the Pelicans still have a potential bright season ahead. When healthy, they’ve posted a 4-0 record and possess world class firepower. But the reality that remains after their fourth straight loss, a 134-119 clunker, in Portland on Thursday: Health is a blessing, not a given.

Every shorthanded loss for NOLA this season has painted its own picture. But a game of catch-up derailed by one last run from the opponent has been the constant in New Orleans’ slump. The effort has been there, the fight has remained, the execution, however, has been incomplete.

Without superstar Anthony Davis, floor general Elfrid Payton, and sharp shooter Darius Miller, New Orleans loses space, size, poise, patience, and endurance. They could have used them all against Portland because once the legs tired all hope was lost. Friday’s matchup was more of a back and forth than the final score will show thanks to a 30-20 fourth quarter, the biggest quarter differential of the game.

Without Davis roaming the floor, New Orleans is susceptible to the three-point shot. Overplayed penetrations and forced defensive help rotations cause several breakdowns and open shooters that are a decisive pass away from an attempt. The Trail Blazers were the latest to take advantage of this as they connected on a season-high 18 makes on 35 three-point attempts. New Orleans, conversely, knocked down but eight threes out of 27 attempts.

In what was surely a long waited contest for Portland, their key players either came to play, or were spelled by another player ready to pick up any slack. Damian Lillard finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Jusuf Nurkic poured in 20 points with nine rebounds, and while C.J. McCollum surprisingly only scored eight points, the Blazers had eight players finish with more than him.

For New Orleans, Julius Randle had a monster first half and finished the game with 29 points. Jrue Holiday continued his quest to continue no longer being underrated as he dropped a double-double. Nikola Mirotic had 18 points and E’Twaun Moore continued his fast start to the season as he scored 19 points on 12 shots.

New Orleans’ failure to connect from three (27 percent) doomed their chances overall against a hot shooting and more assist friendly Portland squad. The jury is out on how this game would look if New Orleans was healthy. We’ll have to live to fight another day in the meantime. With that being said, here are a few observations from Game #8.

Man on a Hill Solo?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

That was clearly a play on words in regards to Solomon Hill, but given his play to start the season, it doesn’t need to be explained — or make sense.

After a minute-less first half, the Pelicans needed more size and defense to defend Portland’s heavy off ball movement and perimeter curl sets. That meant more Solomon Hill in 2018. Defensively he communicated, gave his all and made a play or two. But offensively once again Hill was well, offensive.

Hill who was shooting 23 percent from deep coming into to the game, shot his one and only long distance attempt of the night off of the corner of the backboard before the ball terribly ricocheted into Portland’s possession.

Long story short, the Pelicans badly miss Darius Miller and it may be time once again to see what Wesley Johnson can offer. Solomon appears to be a battered man in New Orleans, one who could be using up his final rotation minutes.

Julius Randle: The Microwave

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Many were unsure of Randle’s role right away when he arrived in NOLA, but it’s been clear he is best served as a huge spark off of the Pelicans bench. Randle used an explosive first half to show why on in front of a national tv audience.

Randle finished his first half with 23 points in only 12 minutes of action. He had a tougher go of things in the second half as he only scored six points. It’s unclear how much his active battle with plantar fasciitis is to blame, but Randle had made zero excuses and had continued to earn the “bully” tag that has followed him over the years. The scary part is, he’s likely only to get better.

The development of Frank Jackson

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans know they have something in Frank Jackson. They just have to figure out what exactly. Is he better served on the ball? Or off the ball? Do you want him in motion towards the rim? Or on the perimeter from deep? So many questions that can’t be answered at once and will take time for the coaching staff and Frank to sort out. But it is clear that’s its only one way to please many spectators, and that’s with him on the floor.

Maybe a more patient approach could be to let Jackson learn on the sidelines when he’s moving too fast. But Jackson did spend an entire year last season in redshirt mode. He will make mistakes, but the crucial part in his development will be how the Pelicans help him learn from them. Sometimes the best way to build a person’s confidence and status is by letting that individual be themselves and adapt on the fly. It’s too early to know if Jackson is deserving of that liberty yet, but it will sure be something to keep an eye on.

Up next, the Pelicans will lick their wounds and hopefully come up with a winning game plan against the Spurs in San Antonio this Saturday. It’s time to get back in the victory column!