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Pelicans with opportunity to rebound against Rockets

New Orleans has struggled of late, but there’s reason to believe in a turnaround

Houston Rockets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The Pelicans began the home stand with disappointment, losing to a Damian Lillard-less Trail Blazers squad, but there’s strong reason to believe the ship gets righted against the Rockets tonight ... and perhaps beyond.

Houston is tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the worst record in the league. Their defense has been practically non-existent (116.4 defensive rating — 29th) and their offense isn’t anything to brag about either (108.7 offensive rating — 24th).

For comparison’s sake, the Pelicans have exceeded the Rockets’ ORTG in nine of their 12 games played. And the defense has bettered Houston’s DRTG another nine times. All of this is to say, New Orleans is clearly the stronger team on paper.

A small distinction is required, though, because the Pelicans haven’t performed up to their earlier season standards over the last three games, causing some panic among the fan base.

There’s no doubt that New Orleans is mired in a bad stretch of basketball, but it feels change sits on the horizon as much can be written off to mental and physical fatigue.

Against the Pacers, who are not one of the best teams in the NBA, it was plainly evident that the Pelicans were two steps slow throughout the 129-122 loss. They couldn’t stay glued to any assignment. Even Jose Alvarado failed to stay with Tyrese Haliburton.

While the Pelicans emerged with a victory in Chicago — thanks to a lot of individual brilliance at times, the rhythm was absent. They made only three 3-pointers. The passing, in addition, was fruitless. While New Orleans moved the ball well (318 passes), it led to far too few potential assists (41.0).

When isolation play proves to be the most effective set for a team that hasn’t enjoyed an overabundance of success with that style of offense previously, it points to a glaring problem.

Then, of course, the loss to the Trail Blazers. The 17 turnovers tied a season high for the Pelicans. It was a poor rebounding performance (50.5 REB%) for a team that dominates the lane when it plays well. However, what stood out the most, New Orleans failed to create turnovers and turn Portland mistakes into points.

The Blazers’ eight turnovers was a season low for a team that entered Thursday’s game with the highest turnover percentage. And the Pelicans four points off those turnovers jumps off the page. Prior to this matchup, New Orleans hadn’t failed to score less than 16 points off opponent turnovers in any game!

“I don’t make excuses,” CJ McCollum said after the loss to Portland. “I don’t feel the best, but we have games to play. We have things to accomplish as a team. The ball will go in, and we’ll win some games. Everything will be great, but this is just a tough part of the season. We’ve had a lot of games on the road and a lot of tough losses. This is what really builds character. Everything isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be hard and difficult. We’re supposed to go through some trials and tribulations. It’s about how you respond, and I’m one to respond, and I think this team is one to respond. I’m not worried about it. I’ll take some vitamin C, and I’ll be alright.”

That’s another thing that must be noted, McCollum has been under the weather, and in my opinion, it’s been obvious.

Look at CJ’s averages over the last three games: 9.7 points, 3.3 turnovers, 29.3 field goal percentage, 17.6 3-points percentage and a 40.0 free throw percentage.

Now look at his stats over the first nine games: 21.6 points, 1.8 turnovers, 42.6 FG%, 32.3 3PT% and an 85.7 FT%.

Are there more concerning issues than just fatigue? For sure! The offense couldn’t solve a zone defense for an entire game. The playing rotations could use a few tweaks. And several strategies can definitely be improved upon.

However, some ills that have ailed the Pelicans of late should be cured after a few days of rest (after tonight’s contest, New Orleans doesn’t play again until Tuesday) and sleeping in their own beds.

The Pels haven’t resembled that more energetic, better-executing squad which was witnessed in preseason and through the first few weeks of the regular schedule. I’m betting we’ll see that team again over the remaining five games of this home stand.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (6-6) vs Houston Rockets (2-10)

When: November 12, 2022, 7:30 p.m. CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA TV, League Pass

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

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 @OlehKosel.