The New Orleans Pelicans simply lacked the necessary firepower to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night. Oh, they made plenty of mistakes all over the court and throughout the game, but with 7:46 remaining, they trailed by just three points at 101-98. Then they proceeded to go scoreless for nearly three full minutes.
That can’t happen, not if victory is the goal.
In their 112-104 loss, Anthony Davis (30 points, 20 rebounds, five assists — just the second time such numbers have been witnessed this season), Jrue Holiday (18 points, 10 assists) and Julius Randle (21 points, eight rebounds) gave enough offensively, but the rest of the group struggled to assist — whether because they were tied to the bench, didn’t get enough attempts or failed to cash in on all the good looks.
None of the support staff failed to impress as much as E’Twaun Moore, who managed to knock down but four of his 18 shot attempts. Included among the misses were open jumpers, bunnies at the rim and even his famed and usually highly successful floaters. And yet if you understand the roles and capabilities of all those on the roster, Alvin Gentry had little choice but to ride out one of his better scorers on the team.
Solomon Hill (1-3 and a -12 in 15 minutes), Tim Frazier (1-2 and a -15 in 12 minutes), Andrew Harrison (no shot attempts in six minutes) and Wesley Johnson cannot be relied upon to shoot with confidence as they have never exhibited that aspect with any consistency in their careers. Kenrich Williams and Frank Jackson, two rookies, looked as though the moment was too big for each of them.
Jahlil Okafor, coming off a big 17-point performance, was probably the only player Gentry misfired on, as he tallied eight points and five rebounds in a mere 13 minutes. He shared time with Davis and the experiment went more than just okay. Sure, he’s not the quickest player defensively, but the positives he brings inside the paint should outweigh the negatives at this point on this shaky roster. Oh, and doesn’t his presence allow AD to play his preferred position of power forward?
On the other side of the coin, the Lakers enjoyed their usual production out of LeBron James (22 points, 14 assists, 12 rebounds) and Kyle Kuzma (23 points, three triples), welcomed back Brandon Ingram (18 points, seven rebounds), but the best may have come from a seldom-used backup center.
Ivica Zubac, who had entered the night scoring a total of 24 points and grabbing 27 rebounds in 74 minutes on the season, posted a line of 16 points (8-10 FGs), 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks against Anthony Davis, Julius Randle and Jahlil Okafor.
You know what, New Orleans rarely ever enjoys a big game from a role player or two. Zubac happened for the Lakers on Friday, Tony Snell and George Hill for the Bucks on Wednesday and it was Derrick Jones Jr. whose inspired play off the bench propelled the Heat to the win over the Pelicans.
And that’s how you wind up with some random three-game losing streak in the middle of the season.
While the stars have still shown up (Jrue, AD and Randle), not enough have stepped up in key absences (Nikola Mirotic, Elfrid Payton). Opponents have proven time and again to be able to rely on their depth, but not New Orleans. There’s just not enough players producing, especially in crucial moments — yes, the Pelicans dropped another game that went into clutch minutes.
“I think our big problem right now is that we can’t seem to close games,” said Gentry to post-game media. “We play even or a little ahead, but come crunch time we’ve got to be able to make shots, come up with stops and make free throws. For some reason we haven’t this year very often.”
Finishing has been a problem all year. New Orleans has the worst Net Rating (-28.6) in the entire league when the game is within five points in the final five minutes. But if the Pelicans have any chance of recovering in the tough Western Conference, this aspect is going to need to do a 180 and fast.
Otherwise, go ahead and start sending me your favorite Anthony Davis trade ideas cause until the front office addresses the issues that’s the likeliest outcome.