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Zion-less Pelicans fail to rebound fully after sloppy first quarter, lose 103-93 to Heat

A 15-21 first half record leaves more questions than answers

NBA: Miami Heat at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans came into their final game before the All-Star break looking to shed an ugly stretch with a victory over the Miami Heat. Minus Zion Williamson, the odds appeared stacked against the Pelicans, but in a matchup where Bam Abedeyo was out for the Heat, not all hope was lost Thursday night.

In what was a relatively low scoring matchup by today’s standards, New Orleans struggled to knock down shots all too often, and they had no answer for Miami out the gate in the first quarter. That frame ultimately became the biggest deciding factor as the Pels were out scored 31-15 in a game that the Pelicans would wind up losing 103-93.

That sloppy first quarter doomed a Pelicans’ team adjusting to new roles on the fly without their 2021 All-Star phenom, forcing their All-Star of last season into repeated traps and more of a facilitator role. Brandon Ingram finished with 17 points, nine assists and five rebounds, but had teammates not struggled from the field as much — New Orleans posted a 39.8 FG% and a 25.6 3PT%, B.I. would have cracked double digits in dimes.

On the opposite side, the Miami Heat didn’t convert a healthy amount of threes as they did in their Christmas matchup versus the Pelicans outside of Kelly Olynyk, but they utilized the free throw line (21/25) and their available star in Jimmy Butler (29 points, nine assists) repeatedly. When he wasn’t driving to the hoop or solidifying his “Jimmy Buckets” nickname, he was making all-star plays for his teammates.

Thursday’s loss leaves the Pelicans at 15-21 and tied for 11th in the West at the midway point, with a lot of questions remaining unanswered. But before we look ahead, let’s look at a couple observations from the game.

The Defense ... Again?

While the Pelicans had better luck in keeping Miami off the scoreboard, the winning formula remains the same for opposing teams. The Heat simply shot poorly from deep. The problems don’t end there, though, as New Orleans lacks athleticism and flexibility on their depth chart, specifically at the wing and big men positions.

NBA: Miami Heat at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Van Gundy was quoted saying after the game in looking ahead to the second half of the schedule:

“Are we going to guard at a decent level or not? If not, then things aren’t going to get better. That’s just the blunt truth. People may not want to hear it. Our vehicle to get better is to defend.”

That vehicle is probably going to need some new wheels and a new motor, if the Pelicans hope to find the playoffs or at least the play-in tournament.

The Young Reserves

There was much to discuss regarding comments made by David Griffin in pregame about some of the younger players and their involvement going forward.

After a night where Jaxson Hayes helped energize NOLA to an almost improbable comeback versus the Bulls, Nickeil Alexander-Walker (13 points, four assists, three threes) and Kira Lewis (11 points) appeared in meaningful minutes as Josh Hart was forced to replace Zion’s void in the starting lineup and JJ Redick was unavailable, too.

Both young guns gave a necessary spark off the bench in their minutes, but despite their solid play against the Heat, it’s unclear what their roles will be down the road.

As Van Gundy stated: “I’m not surprised by it. Griff, Trajan and I talk all the time. We always end up on the same page ... I really liked Kira and Nickeil’s energy tonight. We’ll see where we go in the second half of the year.”

From Lonzo Ball’s upcoming free agency, to Eric Bledsoe and JJ Redick’s future in New Orleans, there are so many elements to watch pre and post the March 25 trade deadline after play resumes next week. The roster remains flawed, and the messages are getting stale after every loss. There’s no question that the talent is there to compete almost every night. Now the answers revolving effort, defensive consistency, roster fits, and so much more must be start to get addressed.

Up Next

The Pelicans will get a week’s worth of rest before resuming play after the All-Star break where they’ll welcome the Timberwolves into town on March 11. New Orleans will attempt to get revenge after a late January 120-110 defeat in Minnesota.

Until next time, be sure to enjoy Zion Williamson’s appearance in the 2021 All-Star Game, as he’s expected to play despite missing tonight’s regular season contest.

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 @Impatientbull.