The road woes plaguing the New Orleans Pelicans (10-21) this season followed them to Orlando and showed no mercy, with the Magic (18-13) easily winning 104-89.
Coming out of the locker room strong in both the first and third quarters was once again a challenge.
Only two minutes after the opening tip, the Magic had knocked down two three pointers and converted a three point play while the Pelicans offense sputtered. With the score at 9-0, head coach Alvin Gentry was forced to take a timeout.
Missing open shots is one thing (though certainly a factor in the Pels’ road struggles), but the absolute absence of offensive execution is another. When the desired play for the possession breaks down, everyone on the floor just looks lost.
It is hard not to notice numerous instances each game where no one on the Pelicans is moving. It is just plain brutal to watch, and its effectiveness is no more pleasing.
Dec 28, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans (1) shoots over Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris (12) during the first quarter of a basketball game at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
This trend has become even more apparent out of time-outs. It has been easy to place the blame on Tyreke Evans, who is the primary ball handler in most of the situations, but the frequency of the problem is starting to deter the suspicion elsewhere.
NBA savant Haralabos Voulgaris tweeted this response after watching yet another play break down:
Monty struggled in some aspects of the game, but executing on inbound plays was not one of them. In fact, one could argue it was a strong suit.
Even if the shots did not always fall, the players at least knew where they needed to be and when they needed to get there. Very rarely was the entire possession ruined.
More from Big Easy Believer
- New Orleans Saints: Three biggest questions heading into the offseason
- New Orleans Saints: Three positives to take from playoff loss
- New Orleans Pelicans: Betting guide vs. Sacramento Kings
- New Orleans Saints: Bold predictions for Wild Card Round vs. Vikings
- New Orleans Pelicans: Betting guide in Los Angeles Lakers rematch
At some point, coach Gentry has to start getting some of the blame. It may take quality NBA players to knock down the shots, but anyone with ears should be able to follow directions if the game plan is being communicated properly.
I lauded the Pelicans continuity in the offseason, and the roster had an impressive reciprocal trust with Monty Williams. Whenever he had something to say, they listened.
It takes time for that level of trust to develop for both parties, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that Gentry is not striking the right chords.
Offensively, the game against the matchup was not particularly bad. The Pels shot 45% from the field, albeit hitting just a quarter of their three point attempts (5-20).
Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson are the best two perimeter threats on the roster. If neither of them are able to find a rhythm, the scoreboard tends to show it.
Dec 28, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon (right) catches a pass in front of Orlando Magic forward Evan Fournier during the fourth quarter of a basketball game at Amway Center. The Magic won 104-89. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
The duo combined to shoot 2-14 from the field and an ice-cold 1-9 from downtown. The most frustrating part is that most of the shots were open looks.
When the ball is moving well, it is finding the right guys in the right spots. At that point, it is all on the players to knock down their shots. Tonight, Gordon and Anderson were unable to do it.
Dec 28, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon (10) holds his face after being hit with the ball during the fourth quarter of a basketball game against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. The Magic won 104-89. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
The defense struggled tonight, especially against the interior threats of the Orlando Magic. Nikola Vucevic, one of the best offensive centers in the NBA, got everything he wanted and more, scoring 28 points on a clean 14-21 from the field.
Andrew Nicholson was able to bully his way to 13 points of his own. Omer Asik and Kendrick Perkins were both brought in to try and slow Vucevic down, but their efforts were in vain.
Pelicans color commentator David Wesley preached time and time again that those guys cannot defend an elite scorer by themselves. Someone from the perimeter needs to help make Vucevic feel even slightly uncomfortable.
The absence of help defense made me question the switch to Kendrick Perkins even more. I admit to being a bigger Asik fan than most, but what exactly is Perkins going to bring to the table that Asik doesn’t?
If better communication on the defensive end is one thing, it certainly was not visible tonight.
Asik and Perkins each finished the night with 15 minutes apiece. The offensive limitations of both of these guys can be seen from a mile away.
If the individual and team defense is not cutting it, at what point will Gentry just go to Alexis Ajinca?
Dec 28, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic guards New Orleans Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca (right) controls the ball during the fourth quarter of a basketball game at Amway Center. The Magic won 104-89. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
The French reserve had a solid year off the bench last season and was rewarded with a new contract in the off-season. He may not be the most intimidating or effective defender on the roster, but he has shown that he can be a legitimate scoring threat.
I am not saying he deserves to start over Asik. But at the very least he needs to be given more minutes to try and ignite the offense when the scoring starts to go south.
Norris Cole and Jrue Holiday were both bright spots in an otherwise dark night for the Pelicans.
Cole has struggled mightily in pretty much every facet of the game since returning from injury, but he did not show it tonight. He was aggressive early, getting to the basket for easy layups instead of settling for his patented 20 foot pull-up jumpers.
Once he got himself into a rhythm, he was able to knock down a three-pointer and even hit one of those long twos! He did have four turnovers, which certainly did not help the cause.
He needs to take care of the ball and take smart shots on that end of the floor to be a plus on this team. Hopefully he will be able to build off of this game going forward.
Jrue Holiday continues to be a sight for sore eyes. His stat line of 11 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block is by no means spectacular. But getting consistent, efficient production on a nightly basis is plenty.
The young point guard has had a tough couple of seasons in New Orleans. As long as he and Anthony Davis are able to stay on the floor, they can be a formidable duo in the Western Conference for years to come.
The last couple of months have been rough, but the Pelicans finish off the calendar year on New Year’s Eve this Wednesday against Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers (7 p.m. CST)…..