The New Orleans Pelicans overcame the absence of Zion Williamson and an early nine-point deficit to defeat the winless Washington Wizards, 118-107 Friday night in Orlando. They improve to 2-3 in NBA seeding play.
Jrue Holiday led all scorers with 28 points, and was one of seven Pelicans to reach double figures. Derrick Favors added a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes.
I’d like to stop there. Because spending time thinking about superlatives from a win over the worst defensive team in the NBA; a team that was unofficially TENTH in the Eastern Conference standings coming into the game; and that was playing without John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Davis Bertans; just doesn’t seem worth any of our time.
The Pelicans could have folded after their humiliating defeat at the hands of the Sacramento Kings. Worse than the score was the fact that the party line of “effort wasn’t an issue” had never rung so hollow.
Instead they competed. They got some nice performances from the reserves, with Frank Jackson (13 pts, 6/10 FGA), Nicolo Melli (10 pts, 6 rebs, 3 blks), and Josh Hart (10 pts, 8 rebs) as difference makers on both sides of the floor. Washington was just 16 of 47 (34%) from the floor in the second half.
It wasn’t the type of overall performance that made you think the team had gotten better from the previous game. More than anything, the opponent was just worse.
Lonzo Ball continues to struggle mightily. Ball has failed to reach double figures scoring in all five games and is shooting a horrid 27.5 percent from the floor.
Brandon Ingram has continued to show his overall skill package on offense, and continues to show that he has work to be done as a defender.
Before tonight, Derrick Favors had been neutralized by his physical limitations, matchups, and at times, his own teammates.
Sure, the Pelicans performed well defensively over the final three quarters...but again, I say unto thee, against the Washington Wizards. The same Washington Wizards’ offense that ranks 21st out of the 22 teams in the bubble.
At least New Orleans experienced some success on defense. They needed that. But it has to carry over into the next three games to give the Pelicans any realistic chance of reaching the play-in games.
That’s where the team’s mindset was focused after the game. Replicating that effort and intensity.
“I thought we did a good job of locking in defensively,” Alvin Gentry said. “I thought we were giving too much space, we weren’t into the ball, and then we were going under screens and we were going under too far. I thought it was really good.
“Fred (Vinson) talked to them during halftime and he just said that we have to be into the ball much, much more, and I thought we did a good job of just doing that, being aggressive, playing screen-and-rolls really well, and just being who we were before we came down here.”
When the defense is functioning, it makes it easier for the team’s offense to get going. The Pelicans put up 18 fast break points and turned the Wizards’ turnovers into 22 points. To overcome the offense’s inconsistency, New Orleans has to create easy scoring opportunities.
“Once you can handle it on the defensive end, it allows you to get out and run in transition and ultimately be more aggressive and kind of get them back on their heels as they’re trying to get back in transition on defense,” said Jackson. “Once we get those stops, we just keep pushing the ball and try to get easy baskets.”
They’ll have to play better to beat the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday. Every game from here on out is a must-win. New Orleans can’t afford to let a small-ball Spurs squad get going early. San Antonio won’t fold so quickly.
“We needed this win,” Melli added. “This was the most important thing...no matter how, no matter what, and we did it.”
You did. Now do it again three more times.