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Pelicans stifled by zone defense, fall 123-108 to Kings

Mike Brown made an adjustment. New Orleans failed to handle it.

New Orleans Pelicans v Sacramento Kings Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans entered tonight with the eighth best defense (112.4 defensive rating) in the league. The Sacramento Kings sat on the other end of the spectrum, sporting the sixth-worst mark (116.0 defensive rating).

Despite the obvious difference in the statistics, there was no evidence of the discrepancy through the first half. The score was tied at 59 apiece entering intermission, with both teams shooting lights out from the field and 3-point range.

Assistant coach Casey Hill couldn’t have hit the bullseye any more directly during his interview with Jen Hale coming out of halftime.

“We’re playing against a team that’s content to just trade baskets with ya, so we’ve got to infuse some defense in the second half.”

Unfortunately, the team that infused some defense was the Kings.

Following a timeout at the 6:56 mark of the third quarter, head coach Mike Brown implemented a zone defense and it worked like a charm. The Pelicans’ rhythm immediately evaporated.

The Kings morphed a small 75-71 advantage into a dominant 97-79 lead at the end of the third quarter. Sacramento’s 22-8 run to close out the frame honestly felt like a Mike Tyson uppercut because the Pelicans stumbled around and never found a way to get back into the contest.

“Not patient, not getting organized” Willie Green said. “Things that we know and we’re capable of. We’ve done it the last few games, but tonight we allowed it to just kind of mess our rhythm up.

“We didn’t get into our offense quick enough. Like I said, we started to walk around a little bit, just moving the ball on the perimeter. That’s what the zone is meant to do, stagnate you and that’s what it did to us tonight.”

The Kings are no doubt a good basketball team, but the 123-108 loss is a disappointing one. All it took was for one adjustment by the opposing head coach to derail the Pelicans — by an opponent that’s not known for defending well this season.

Moreover, the Pelicans were never able to disturb the Kings on the other end of the floor, as evidenced by Sacramento finishing with a 56.6 field goal percentage and a 42.1 3-point percentage.

Brandon Ingram totaled 24 points and seven assists, Jonas Valanciunas posted a double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds, and CJ McCollum had 14 points and four rebounds.

Trey Murphy (17 points, five rebounds, four assists, four 3s, two steals, two blocks) and Herb Jones (13 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, three 3s) were stellar in posting eye-popping lines, but nevertheless, they came in a loss.

Kevin Huerter led the Kings with 25 points, which included six makes from 3. He also had eight assists and finished with a game-best +27 plus-minus.

Domantas Sabonis posted a triple-double of 19 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

In addition to not reacting well to the zone defense, the Pelicans committed far too many turnovers (16), with most of the infractions coming from Ingram (six turnovers) and McCollum (five turnovers). As primary ball-handlers and playmakers, they must play under more control for the team to find success.

And that general idea goes for the rest of the squad — the Pelicans have to find a way to be better. The Kings never suffered a hiccup, despite being without De’Aaron Fox. It was particularly noteworthy watching how much more quickly the Kings got back on defense in the fourth quarter than the Pelicans, for instance.

Losing the effort category cannot continue to be an issue for these Pelicans. Not with how they’ve steadily been adding more losses than wins over the last few months. If this rate continues, a spot in the play-in tournament could soon be out of realistic reach.

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.