clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Fair to wonder whether Pelicans have realistic shot of reaching playoffs after 128-106 loss to Knicks

New Orleans’ downward trend is deeply disturbing

New Orleans Pelicans v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The New York Knicks hit a jumper on each of their first four possessions, which included a couple of 3-pointers. During these first few minutes of tonight’s matchup, the New Orleans Pelicans missed all three of their looks from deep.

That trend, disturbingly, changed very little — despite the fact that the Knicks were the team playing on the second night of a back-to-back set.

At the 8:47 mark of the third quarter, RJ Barrett knocked down one of the many wide open 3s that the Knicks received on the night. Seconds later, a CJ McCollum corner 3-point attempt first grazed the side of the backboard before clanging short off the rim.

Julius Randle and RJ Barrett combined to make nine 3-pointers in 17 attempts. Brandon Ingram and McCollum, on the other hand, knocked down only two of their 15 attempts.

The Pelicans, as a team, made 8 of 38 from beyond the arc; the Knicks, 19-48.

The disparity in the long distance shooting, though, doesn’t remotely begin to describe why the Pelicans lost 128-106 to the Knicks on Saturday evening. This does: “They kicked our butts,” Willie Green said in response to what he saw defensively from his team.

The Pelicans let go of the rope quickly. Too quickly. They lost the first quarter by 16 points. They trailed the Knicks 73-52 at halftime.

Never mind all the missed shot attempts, the Pelicans’ effort levels and execution were terrible on both ends. The offense is anything but a well-oiled machine right now. Every possession looks like a chore that often results in a less than ideal shot. Defense, the area that the team claims to hang their hat on, is mind-numbingly absent for far too many stretches.

Midway through the fourth, the Knicks had a 32-point lead.

“They made shots early,” Green said. “They demoralized us. We hung our heads, we moped, we pouted and they just ran the ball down the floor and made more shots.”

This isn’t meant as a slight of Josh Richardson, but the newest addition to the roster shouldn’t look like the best player on the court in his fourth game for New Orleans. There’s good reason why he’s largely been in a reserve role over the last two seasons.

There’s not only a lack of beautiful basketball, it’s hard to point to more than a few examples of intelligent play.

On one possession, Jalen Brunson got stuck guarding Willy Hernangomez. However, the Pelicans failed to even try and take advantage of the mismatch. Then on the Knicks’ ensuing possession, Jose Alvarado wound up on Julius Randle. The Knicks immediately pounced, resulting in an Alvarado personal foul.

If it wasn’t for the end of the bench guys making things somewhat more palatable, the final score would have been a laugher.

To add to the misery, Larry Nance Jr. had to be helped off the floor early in the second quarter after spraining his left ankle. Considering he could put very little weight on that foot, his absence feels likely to be measured in weeks.

Where do the Pelicans go from here? I honestly don’t know. One would assume that the team already had their gut check moment after getting crushed by the Lakers in Los Angeles right before the All-Star break. Yet here we are again, contemplating “the worst loss of the season” just a few games later.

One thing is for sure, though, only the guys in the locker room can pull themselves out of this bad tailspin down the standings.

“The beauty in our guys is, we just met as a team and talked for a few minutes, nobody pointed the finger at each other,” Green said. “They all started with themselves. I started with myself. We know we have to be better. We know we can be better.

“There’s plenty of time left, but we don’t want to look back and leave anything for chance. And right now, like I said earlier in my pregame press conference, it starts with our sense of urgency. It starts with just playing hard and we haven’t been doing that lately or consistently.”

The head coach also mentioned in his postgame that several leaders on the team spoke up in the locker room after the loss.

“Couple of our leaders spoke up and we’ll continue to have these talks,” Green said. “Go back, like I said, and watch the tape, see where we can get better, and then we have to transition that to the floor. And that’s the area that we haven’t been holding ourselves accountable of doing.”

Following the defeat to the Lakers, the Pelicans returned early from the All-Star break to practice. That obviously didn’t produce its intended effect. And fans have heard about the team needing to hold themselves accountable far too often over these last few months from the head coach.

It’s completely understandable to have a healthy dose of skepticism. While the locker room remains intact, one can’t overlook the fact that the Pelicans have gone 7-17 since Zion Williamson first injured his hamstring. Betting on the team to make the playoffs doesn’t feel like a smart gamble right now. Maybe just getting into the play-in tournament should also be included in that group.

At a time when most playoff-hopeful teams are trending in the right direction and playing good basketball, the Pelicans are stacking together their worst performances of the season. The clouds above New Orleans couldn’t be any more ominous.

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.