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Pelicans conclude disappointing season with 110-98 loss to Lakers

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2020-21 may be in the books, but the work has only just begun for the New Orleans front office — time to get things right around Zion Williamson

Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

It’s over.

For better or for worse the 2020-21 season has come to an end for the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Pelicans 110-98, handing New Orleans its fourth consecutive loss to close out the season. New Orleans trailed from start to finish.

Willy Hernangomez, one of the Pelicans bright spots down the stretch, finished with a team-high 19 points, to go along with 12 rebounds, earning his 11th double-double. He was one of six players to reach double figures for New Orleans.

Naji Marshall had a solid all-around game with 18 points, six rebounds, and seven assists, as well as the shot of the night. With time running out in the first half, Marshall heaved a shot from near half court that banked in to cut the Lakers lead to four at intermission.

The Pelicans wouldn’t get any closer than that the rest of the way, as the Lakers essentially put the game away during the third quarter by outscoring New Orleans by 11 points.

Ultimately, New Orleans was undone by 21 turnovers that Los Angeles was able to convert into 23 points. Without Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball, the Pelicans just didn’t have enough experienced ball handlers on the floor.

LeBron James led all scorers with 25 points before taking a seat after tweaking his injured ankle midway through the fourth quarter.

Anthony Davis scored 14 points on 5-12 shooting in 30 minutes. Andre Drummond added a 13-point, 13-rebound double-double.

While the Lakers will be facing the Warriors in the play-in before the playoffs, the Pelicans and their fans will once again have to wait until next year for a chance to reach the postseason.

Bigger than the on-court defeat was the loss of Jaxson Hayes. Hayes went down after colliding with Marc Gasol, injuring his right knee in the process.

Stan Van Gundy was unable to give an update on Hayes’ status after the game.

Prior to the injury, Jaxson was putting together another solid performance with 10 points, seven rebounds, and three assists in 20 minutes of action.

The Pelicans’ 31-41 record represents a one game improvement from last season, which ended with three straight defeats in the Orlando bubble. New Orleans finishes this season with an 18-18 home record, while winning only 13 of 36 road contests.

Since drafting Zion Williamson the Pelicans have an overall mark of 61-83 (.423). That’s well ahead of the pace set during the first two seasons of Anthony Davis’ tenure in New Orleans (61-103, .371), but slightly behind the performance of the early days of the Chris Paul era (77-87, .469).

Both CP3 and Davis led New Orleans to the playoffs in year three of their respective rebuilds. The then-New Orleans Hornets had the best season in franchise history during Paul’s third campaign, advancing to the seventh game of the Western Conference semifinals. Davis’ 2014-15 Pelicans lost in the first round to the top-seeded Golden State Warriors.

The pressure is now on for the Pelicans. No matter what anyone’s personal expectations have been over the last two seasons, it would be hard to find an analyst or fan who would consider anything other than a postseason appearance in 2022 an abject failure.

In order for that to happen, there must be change. Simply running it back isn’t an option.

David Griffin has plenty of decisions to make. Assessing the value of the rapidly improving but inconsistent Lonzo Ball and second unit spark plug Jost Hart won’t be easy. Griffin also must address the precipitous decline of Eric Bledsoe and whether or not Steven Adams provides enough value to keep Hernangomez and Hayes on the bench.

Griffin vowed on tonight’s Bally Sports broadcast not to go into next season with the roster issues that the team dealt with this season: a lack of shooting being the biggest omission with basketball IQ following closely behind.

Expect an aggressive approach by ownership and the front office, knowing that the clock is ticking on convincing Williamson and the fan base that the franchise is pointed in the right direction.

Williamson and Ingram will have to make a leap as well, especially on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not enough to be one of the top scoring duos in the league, they have to be tone setters on the defensive end.

Van Gundy wants the team to find its defensive identity, and he needs it to begin to be more diligent with film study, mental preparation, and execution.

“We have to find a way to put it all together, and I clearly must do a better job at the end of close games and so do they,” he said of his team after the game. “Become more disciplined, make better decisions ... so we all have a long way to go.

“I think as a coach, quite honestly, I am not happy. I think that, in terms of a record, we should have had a better year and so as coach you are not going to feel good about that, and I am pretty self-critical. I will outline a lot of areas that I think that we need to get better and we will start attacking those. How I would characterize my first year? Some things were good, but overall I need to do a lot better job.”

That should be the approach for everyone on Airline Drive throughout the offseason. The bar of success has to be raised.

Pelicans fans won’t settle for less.

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 @DMGrubb.