No matter the appeal of the inaugural Ball Bowl; the biggest story going into Friday night’s matchup between the New Orleans Pelicans and Charlotte Hornets was whether or not the Pelicans could snap a two-game losing streak.
In the end, the Pelicans’ inability to take care of the basketball on offense or get stops on defense sent them to their third consecutive defeat, losing 118-110.
Zion Williamson led New Orleans (4-5) with 26 points and eight rebounds. Josh Hart added 19 points and eight boards of his own. Brandon Ingram finished with 17 points, eight boards, and eight assists; while JJ Redick came off the bench and out of his season-long shooting slump to score 17 as well.
But, after a Redick three with 7:27 to play in the second quarter put the Pelicans up 47-29, the Hornets would finish the game on an 89-63 run.
“We played a really good first eight minutes; that’s what we played tonight,” Stan Van Gundy said in postgame. “We got stops, and we got out and ran. I thought we were really good in the first eight minutes, and after that, really the last forty minutes of the game it was all them.”
Charlotte outscored New Orleans 71-51 in the second half.
Offensively, the Pelicans were once again consistently inconsistent. In the games opening minutes, and at various moments throughout, New Orleans was unselfish and aggressive.
They made 49 percent of their shot attempts for the game, good for third best on the season so far. The team’s 15-of-38 performance from three-point distance represented their highest total made since the opener, and the second highest in attempts and percentage.
However, when New Orleans wasn’t being unselfish and aggressive, the Pelicans were being careless and unsure.
The Pelicans turned the ball over 19 times. Those are 19 wasted possessions without an opportunity to score. Worst yet, the starters were responsible for 15 of those giveaways. Steven Adams and Williamson had seven to just five assists between them.
Charlotte had no such problem taking advantage of those opportunities, scoring 27 points off of those mistakes. That was nearly eight more than their 19.4 season average.
Instead of battling back defensively, the Pelicans continued their recent trend of allowing teams to attack the rim at their pleasure, and providing consistent open looks from the three-point line.
Tonight, after being one of the league’s best rebounding teams out of the gate, New Orleans decided to not do that either.
Charlotte beat them on the glass on both ends of the floor. They scored 26 second-chance points and gashed the Pelicans for 44 points in the paint.
The Hornets posted some of their best offensive numbers of the season, including their 118 total points.
Charlotte (4-5) finished with six players in double figures. Gordon Hayward followed up his 44-point outburst against the Atlanta Hawks with 26 against the Pelicans. Miles Bridges added 20 points in 30 electric minutes.
LaMelo Ball outshined his older brother Lonzo, nearly posting the first triple-double of his young career. Melo, the third overall pick in this season’s draft, put up 12 points, a career-high 10 rebounds, and 9 assists.
Ultimately, the Pelicans lost another game to what should have been an inferior opponent, and finished what should have been a successful home stand with a disappointing 1-3 record.
“The entire second half tonight, we couldn’t stop them at all. I mean, we could not stop them,” Van Gundy said. “When they missed, we couldn’t get a rebound, so they’d still end up with a bucket. It was very very frustrating – I’m sure for our players, and it was frustrating to watch. We’ve got to get a lot better at the defensive end of the floor. I think we should be a good defensive team. I think we should be a top ten defensive team. Over the last four games, we’re a bottom ten defensive team. That can’t be us.”
The Pelicans now head out onto an extremely difficult 7-game road trip that will truly test what kind of team this is. First and foremost, it has to be better defensively. The Clippers and Lakers are able to deal with better offenses than the Pelicans at their best.
Any team can have off nights shooting the basketball, but no team can afford to have off nights on defense. Not in this league.
The Pelicans had better find their defensive identity, or they won’t give themselves the chance to develop an offensive one.