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New Orleans Pelicans fourth-quarter charge comes up just short, lose 111-110 to Philadelphia 76ers

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With Anthony Davis watching, Pelicans nearly pull off unexpected comeback.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the New Orleans Pelicans just cannot play with Anthony Davis on the floor anymore.

The Pelicans lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 111-110 on Monday night at the Smoothie King Center, dropping them 1-3 in games that Davis has played at least 20 minutes since returning from injury on February 8. They are 2-1 when he doesn’t top that number, with wins over Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Jrue Holiday led the Pels with 22 points, to go along with seven assists, and five boards. Elfid Payton picked up his third double-double of the season and first since January 24 by scoring 10 points and handing out a season-best 14 assists.

AD played just over 20 minutes against the Sixers, who swept the season series with the Pelicans for the first time since the 2013-14 season, scoring 18 points to go along with six rebounds, three blocks and two steals before sitting out the entire fourth quarter once again.

During his postgame comments to the media, Alvin Gentry downplayed any notion that Davis’ presence has any negative impact on the effort level of his team. “I think we play hard all the time,” he said. “I don’t know if (it’s) a real fair question to ask.”

It may not be fair, but the results are hard to ignore.

Over the final 12 minutes, the Pelicans nearly overcame a deficit that swelled to as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter with Trade Asset No. 1 sitting comfortably on the bench.

The Pels gave up 93 points in the first three quarters before holding Philly to 18 points in the final frame.

Down three with :16 remaining, Jrue Holiday found Julius Randle inside for a layup to pull New Orleans to within one at 111-110 with 10 ticks on the clock. Randle finished the game with 19 points and 14 rebounds (6-for-18 shooting).

After fouling Jonathon Simmons, the Pelicans caught a break as Simmons missed both free throws to give the Pelicans one final shot. However, E’Twaun Moore was forced to take a three-pointer under heavy duress that fell short of the rim as time expired.

“We didn’t have any timeouts left so we were going to try to get the ball into Jrue’s hands, obviously, but we weren’t able to do that,” Gentry said of the final sequence. They did a great job of closing him out, but E’Twaun shooting that shot...we have to live with that.”

“Jimmy (Butler) closed out like a rocket, and obviously E’Twaun is a great shooter, but he got a piece of it,” said Holiday. “And he still shot it. With time, maybe we get a rebound or something like that.”

On any other night, this could be chalked up as another disappointing loss for the Pelicans. Now, the games are viewed through a completely different prism. Fans have embraced the team (except for the aforementioned asset) because of its determination and fight in the face of the chaos that Asset No. 1 introduced to the franchise and the locker room.

Those qualities were on display once again against the Sixers.

Gentry thought so as well. “I thought the one thing we did is that we just kept trying,” he said. “We didn’t have our best game tonight. We had turnovers at crucial situations, things like that. I though we just stayed with it, we competed, we gave ourselves a chance and that’s all you can do.”

New Orleans got that chance by ratcheting the defense up to 11. The Pelicans harrassed Philadelphia into shooting 6-for-21 down the stretch. Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, and Tobias Harris were a combined 4-of-16. Also, Boban Marjanovic sustaining a serious-looking injury inside the final 90 seconds of the contest might have contributed to the 76ers failing to close out the Pelicans in stronger fashion.

Offensively, the Pelicans played one of their ugliest games of the season, missing nearly two dozen shots at the rim and going 5-28 from distance. But they were right there at the end, in position to knock off the team with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference.

During a conversation with Fox Sports’ Jen Hale, interim general manager Danny Ferry stated that the Pelicans’ priority is to be as competitive as possible for the remainder of the season. Alvin Gentry has done a commendable job to say the least in keeping his young team focused on their play rather than watching them attempt to row in 14 different directions.

It’s a stark contrast to what seems to be happening with Wednesday night’s opponent, the Lakers, though only one of the two squads is playing for something tangible.

Considering the location of the game, it’s quite possible that the Pelicans may choose to sit Davis rather than allow him to be a distraction.

If that is the case and based on the way things have gone so far, New Orleans should feel pretty good about its chances for a second win over Los Angeles within the span of five days.

Without saying so, I can’t imagine that nearly everyone from Gayle Benson to the Smoothie King Center’s parking attendant wouldn’t be ecstatic at the very thought of more ammuntion to troll the Lakers and their fans.