Early calls for patience surrounding the New Orleans Pelicans have already turned into a smashing of the panic button regarding this season’s hopes just eight games in for many.
The Pelicans (1-7) fell to the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors (6-2) for the second time in under three weeks Friday night at the Smoothie King Center. This time the loss came by a 122-104 margin in which Pascal Siakam, the 2018-19 Most Improved Player, tied his career high with 44 points.
Despite an early 16-point explosion from Siakam, the Pelicans were still tied at 30 following the first quarter. Jrue Holiday and Brandon Ingram were setting a tone, but that was the only tone being set at all. Quickly in the second, New Orleans realized it wouldn’t be close to enough.
It took nearly four minutes and a 15-0 Raptors run to start the second before the Pelicans could manage a made basket. Toronto won the frame 45-23 — tied for the most points New Orleans has ever given up in a quarter — behind another career-high 26 first half points out of Siakam, dominating New Orleans in transition and off the bench. The Raptors ended the night with 38 total fast break points as 31 were scored in that half. Holiday and Ingram combined for 34 points prior to the break, but no one else emerged to offset the worst half of Pelicans basketball played this season.
“We just didn’t get back,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Every guy that played out there tonight was on a championship team. They know what it takes to win a championship. You have to compete at that same level. Obviously, we’ve got to be able to execute better and put the ball in the basket.”
Kyle Lowry (left thumb) and Serge Ibaka (right ankle) did not return after halftime. Still, New Orleans looked utterly defeated. Not much energy, fight or chemistry was present as the rotation search continued for this coaching staff. The Pelicans held the same deficit to close the third quarter as they did at the intermission, and a late-game push from rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker didn’t materialize in time to muster a legitimate comeback attempt. So, what’s next? Back to the drawing board again…
“We can do one of two things,” Gentry said. “We’ve changed a little bit schematically what we’re trying to do. But the next step is we’ve got to find somebody that can do it. So, we’ll start playing different combinations of guys like we did tonight. That’s not a threat. It’s just the way you gotta do it as a coach.”
Ingram finished with a team-high 27 points alongside seven boards. Holiday ended with 16 points, six rebounds and six assists. In just sixteen minutes, Alexander-Walker racked up 13 points and four assists on 4-of-8 shooting. No matter a 1-7 record, the No. 17 overall pick is hopeful the basketball gods will help New Orleans turn its recent misfortune around with time.
“This league, especially this year, is so different,” Alexander-Walker said. “Any team at any point in time can do anything. I think it’s about consistency throughout. There’s going to be ups and downs that you can’t control, but how you approach every possession, trying to get the right shots, trying to make the right play — in due time, when you stay in it, the game will give back to you.”
Next up: New Orleans will match up against the Charlotte Hornets (4-4) on the road tomorrow night, marking the second leg of the team’s first back-to-back this season.