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There’s an easy explanation for New Orleans Pelicans’ losing ways

Great toe contusions are only partially to blame!

Memphis Grizzlies v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

During a current slide that’s produced nine losses in their last 12 contests, an unenviable pattern has emerged. As the minutes tick by on the game clock, the New Orleans Pelicans trend more and more negatively, bottoming out completely in the fourth quarter.

Quarter Offensive rating Defensive rating Net rating
1st QTR 113.8 (18th) 115.4 (20th) -1.6 (18th)
2nd QTR 109.5 (28th) 115.4 (19th) -5.9 (25th)
3rd QTR 113.3 (21st) 122.1 (26th) -8.9 (25th)
4th QTR 101.0 (28th) 122.0 (26th) -21.0 (29th)

It’s true that the performances haven’t been good from start to finish, but in three of the last four games, the Pelicans held a lead at one point in the fourth quarter. However, they wound up losing to the Cavaliers (Jan. 16), Magic (Jan. 20) and the Heat (Jan. 22) by a combined 27 points.

Even in the 119-108 victory over the Rockets on Jan. 4, the Pelicans lost the fourth quarter by 14 points.

There’s a multitude of factors at play.

The schedule has been difficult. Eight of the last 12 games have come against opponents with records above .500; nine of those games have been played on the road.

Brandon Ingram has sat out all 12 games, Zion’s missed 10, and Herb Jones and Naji Marshall have missed time too.

Past the halfway mark of the season, the continuation of important absences have finally taken a toll on the team’s depth. Legs appear heavier, confidence has waned, and some players are still not ready to fulfill bigger roles.

Larry Nance Jr. doesn’t seem to have the same burst he possessed earlier. Dyson Daniels doesn’t have the same confidence when looking for his own shot. Jaxson Hayes lacks consistency in the basic fundamentals. Trey Murphy can’t run into more shots per game despite the great need for an increased number of attempts. Jose Alvarado’s early season shot-making had dropped off — Devonte’ Graham’s has cratered. And CJ McCollum, for as great as he’s been, isn’t a true No. 1 option that can be relied upon on a daily basis.

So, even when the Pelicans have put themselves in position to win with less than 12 minutes to play, it isn’t all that surprising they’ve fumbled away the opportunities.

In Sunday’s loss to the Heat, the game plan against a short-handed Pelicans team was evident down the stretch. Remove CJ from the equation by doubling him anywhere inside the half court and force those unaccustomed to, or uncomfortable in, a playmaking role to beat you.

Hayes might have been fouled on the catch. Regardless, he has to be aware he’s surrounded by two active defenders.

A minute later, Hayes sails a cross court pass intended for Alvarado into the fifth row.

To make it clear, Hayes was not alone at fault. The Pelicans committed a season-high 25 turnovers as a team in their last game. Keep that number under 20, especially with smarter decision-making in the fourth quarter, and maybe they hang on to beat the Heat.

Some may be tired of hearing the phrase, “the margin for error is small,” but it is entirely applicable. The Pelicans must execute with greater precision if they want to return to the win column. Unfortunately, that might be asking too much of rotation that’s seen role players pressed into greater duty with the absence of key players, all the while many are battling from either some fatigue or confidence.

Thankfully, the rotation is expected to get bolstered soon. Marshall is listed as questionable and Ingram has been upgraded to doubtful for the Pelicans matchup against the Denver Nuggets. Even if both remain unavailable tonight, they’re tracking to return sometime later this week.

The effort has largely been there, though, it must be accompanied by either a shot in the arm via a player returning from injury or stronger execution over a 48-minute span. The Pelicans will get back to their winning ways — this roster is good — but just how quickly that happens is entirely dependent on the right domino(es) falling.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (26-21) vs Denver Nuggets (33-14)

When: January 24, 2023, 7:00 p.m. CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, 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.