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Pelicans blow early 15-point lead, get trampled by Lakers going away, 112-95

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L.A. eventually showed why they’re the best team in the league

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans lost their fifth consecutive game Friday night against the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers by a final score of 112-95.

New Orleans was without guard Lonzo Ball, who missed his second straight game with knee tendonitis. On the bright side, guard Eric Bledsoe and forward Zion Williamson both returned to the lineup after missing the last game against the Clippers. Bledsoe had been dealing with right eye irritation and Zion Williamson was held out due to an inconclusive Covid-19 test. Williamson was retested and cleared Covid protocol prior to the game.

Head coach Stan Van Gundy shuffled the lineup in Ball’s absence starting Steven Adams, Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. The move to start Alexander-Walker was at least partially due to the second-year guard exploding for 37 points against the Clippers a few nights ago.

New Orleans could have started Alexander-Walker next to Bledsoe, but instead opted to go with Hart, perhaps in an attempt to bolster their struggling second unit. It produced mixed results, with the Laker reserves outscoring the Pelicans bench 41-31.

First Half

New Orleans continued a recent trend of fast starts by seizing an early 28-20 lead over the Lakers in the first quarter. Despite the 4-game losing streak, the Pelicans had won the first quarter in four of their last six games. That good trend continued, with the team shooting 63.2% from the floor to open the game while a stingy defense held the home Lakers to only 29.2% from the field.

Forwards Brandon Ingram (eight points) and Zion Williamson (six points) were aggressive early, attacking the rim and attempting all but two of their 10 combined first quarter shots in the paint. The biggest negative was the disturbing turnover pattern. New Orleans committed eight turnovers in the first frame, which kept the struggling Lakers within striking distance.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The second quarter saw New Orleans continue their torrid shooting. The offensive ball movement was good, resulting in eight different Pelicans scoring, but Ingram again paced the Pelicans, drilling all four of his shot attempts in the quarter. He, along with Lakers forward Anthony Davis, scored nine points respectively for each of their teams.

Unfortunately, the Pels turned the ball over another six times. Worse though, New Orleans compounded their mistakes by putting the Lakers on the free throw line a total of 13 times which L.A. converted into 12 points in the second quarter.

‘’We played a good first 18 minutes, and then they turned up the defense and just dominated us at both ends after that,’’ Van Gundy said after the game.

One of the major stories of the game was the free throw disparity (26-8). New Orleans only attempted two free throws in the second quarter. A lack of defensive discipline at times led to fouls; however, there were also several questionable calls which the Lakers benefited from but the Pelicans didn’t seem to receive the same whistle.

Van Gundy does not seem to be a fan of challenging the calls on the floor in the first half as he decided to not have officials re-examine any of the controversial calls.

The Lakers outscored the Pelicans 37-30 in the second, cutting New Orleans lead to one going into half time at 58-57.

Second Half

We’re starting to see a concerning tendency for the 2021 Pelicans. Start fast, slip in the second quarter, collapse in the third quarter, then fade in the fourth quarter. This game was no exception.

The third quarter was the eyesore of the game. New Orleans scored only 16 points while shooting a dismal 28.6% from the field and 20% from three-point range. Ball movement was nearly non-existent, with the Pelicans registering four meager assists.

Defensively, the Pelicans weren’t much better. New Orleans was late to closeout on several Laker three-point attempts, allowing L.A. to shoot 44% from deep in the quarter. Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went 3-for-3 from behind the arc to lead all scorers with 11 points.

New Orleans lost the the third quarter 27-16 and was never really a threat to the Lakers in the fourth.

Observations

Pelicans big man Nicolo Melli played over 20 minutes Friday night registering zero points, four rebounds, and one assist. Eleven games into the season, Melli is shooting a terrible 23.5% from the field and an equally upsetting 21.4% from three-point range, while providing very little value defensively or on the glass.

You have to wonder at what point Van Gundy considers removing Melli from the rotation for at least a few weeks. In the head coach’s defense, the roster is quite thin in the front court beyond starters Steven Adams and Zion Williamson, but shouldn’t have Jaxson Hayes received the lion share of back-up, big-man minutes Friday night?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Alexander-Walker was perhaps on his way to another solid game, but foul trouble interrupted that potential. He scored 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting, also adding three rebounds and two assists. NAW was active defensively, too. However, he’s going to have to take better care of the ball moving forward. Five turnovers in 20 minutes is simply too much and further issues could push him back down the rotation.

Regardless, let’s hope the second-year guard remains an integral part. We’re still early in the season, but we’re starting to see players separate themselves in both good and bad ways. Nickeil is a young player with a good amount of potential who appears on the rise, so here’s to his on-the-court development remaining high on SVG’s priority list.

But there’s no doubt about it, the Pelicans need to find a way to exit the loss column in their next game. Maybe the Kings’ league-worst rated defense can cure what ails New Orleans in their next game on Sunday.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @Jamdunn06.