The New Orleans Pelicans (1-6) probably wish they could turn back the hands of time and return to the season opener against the Toronto Raptors (5-2) — specifically right to the moment just inside the final minute of regulation.
The Pelicans led 117-115 following a JJ Redick jumper with 59.2 seconds remaining and then nine seconds later the sharpshooter was run over by Pascal Siakam for an offensive ball. Not only did New Orleans get the ball back, Toronto’s most dynamic player had just fouled out of the game. Get another hoop and you’re up two scores with about thirty seconds left. That likely would have been game. However, Josh Hart turned the ball over on the ensuing possession and Kyle Lowry got fouled in transition the other way. Of course he sank both freebies from the free throw line to knot the score all up. And for the Pelicans final shot attempt, Jrue Holiday settled for a super high degree of difficultly three-pointer.
Had Jrue attacked immediately on the catch, the Raptors only had Fred VanVleet protecting the rim. Or he could have skipped the ball across the court to Hart, who was left completely unguarded. Or best yet, tried to utilize his strength, size and agility to get around Kyle Lowry and either drawing a foul or at least winding up with a more comfortable shot attempt with very little time left on the clock.
Alas, we know the rest of the story: the Pelicans were smashed in overtime. Brandon Ingram has proceeded to set the world on fire, but the team has limped out of the gates with just a single victory in seven contests. Can New Orleans make some amends and close the season series against Toronto with a much-needed split?
Zion Williamson isn’t expected back until December at the earliest and Redick is suddenly listed as questionable with a left knee bruise, but Lonzo Ball should be a go despite missing several practices and Derrick Favors sounds available to shoulder a decent load for head coach Alvin Gentry.
“I feel a lot better,” Favors said after Thursday’s practice. “I participated in most of the practice today. Got some good treatment in. So I’m feeling a lot better. I’m not 100% yet, but I’m getting close to it.”
Favors showed a glimpse of his potential impact against the Dallas Mavericks in the second game of the season, scoring 16 points on 10 shots, but he believes he injured his right knee in the second half, cutting his night short. Since then, Gentry has scrambled to find any type of consistency from another big man as his starting center has dealt with soreness in that knee.
Getting 25-28 productive minutes from a relatively healthy Favors would likely do wonders for the Pelicans. Their defense, ranked 29th out of 30th, has been abysmal in every game outside of their lone win versus the Denver Nuggets. They’ve been poor at stopping opponents at the rim and corralling rebounds. That’s a shame because the offense has been really good (fifth-best Offensive Rating) and deserves more than just one win under its belt.
The book is out on the Raptors. They play really well together though and do a good job of capitalizing on opponent mistakes. They’re incredibly solid but probably a little too unspectacular to be considered a true contender to come out of the East. Siakam is a rising star, but Kyle Lowry is on the wrong side of his prime. Toronto has a number of good role players (Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and VanVleet), with only OG Anunoby a true tantalizing young gun.
The Raptors are what they are, but that’s worlds better than what the Pelicans have displayed since their first meeting. New Orleans is going to have to summon a fantastic effort just to have a chance at the win. Although we’ve seen that song and dance numerous times on the young season, closing out games well has been as problematic as anything. Gentry feels it’s a matter of better execution. A lot of fans don’t care — there’s always a reason or two but never the desired result.
Time to live up to the offseason hype of at least being competitive and a win against steady Toronto would make for a fine start.
Where To Watch/Listen
What: New Orleans Pelicans (1-6) vs Toronto Raptors (5-2)
Where: Smoothie King Center
When: Friday, November 8, 2019. 7:00 PM CDT