With Anthony Davis now out of commission for the remainder of the season, the Pelicans were forced to start a make-shift line-up featuring Jrue Holiday, Toney Douglas, Luke Babbitt, Dante Cunningham and Omer Asik last night against the Los Angeles Clippers, the current fourth seed in the Western Conference.
Naturally, the Pelicans came out with a victory.
Despite being heavily outmatched on paper, the starters and reserves for New Orleans came out and played as if they could compete with anybody. In a season full of disappointment, this win stands out among one of the few bright spots.
The entire starting lineup plus Tim Frazier off the bench scored in double figures, and the team shot 49% from the field.
Frazier continues to impress in his first week with the team. His 17 points tonight were a career high, and he also collected 7 rebounds, 4 steals and a pair of assists.
The sample size is still very small, but Frazier has irrefutably produced against a couple of the best guards in the entire NBA. Whether his seizing of this opportunity will result in a long term deal remains to be seen.
Mar 20, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Tim Frazier (2) drives past Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers (25) during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Clippers 109-105. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Speaking of seizing opportunity, Omer Asik played 30 minutes tonight in what was one of his most impressive performances as a Pelican. He recorded his first double-double of the season (15 points and 14 rebounds), and was stellar on the defensive end against DeAndre Jordan.
Asik has battled not only battled injury this season, but also heavy criticism from the Pelicans faithful. My faith in Asik was rewarded with a standout performance tonight, and a few more similar outings will hopefully start to satisfy other fans as well.
The Pelicans played one heck of a game, but they still almost managed to throw it away. They lost the turnover battle 23-12, and many of those giveaways were unforced errors.
A few late threes out of the hands of Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford sliced into the lead, but a few clutch trips to the free throw line for the Pels (and a few very un-clutch trips for the Clippers) ultimately sealed the deal.
Free throws were a big story all night. The Pelicans shot 32-40, right at 80%. This team has struggled mightily at times this season to draw a lot of fouls, but 40 attempts tonight makes it look like another day at the office.
All the starters (and Frazier) took at least 5 shots at the line, another product of the balanced attack on display.
In the fourth quarter, Alvin Gentry decided to implement the old “hack-a-Shaq” strategy on DeAndre Jordan. The Pelicans, who were firmly in control at this point, successfully fouled Jordan multiple times in an attempt to stall the Clippers offense, but the tactic quickly backfired.
Mar 20, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) dunks against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Jordan knocked down 3 of the next four free throws, and the Pels responded with a couple of turnovers on the other end. The Clippers had cut into the lead without really having to do much themselves.
Luckily, the makes stopped coming. Chris Paul and Austin Rivers went a combined 0-4 in consecutive trips to the line, giving the Pelicans just enough of a break to make sure the game didn’t slip away.
Mar 20, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik (3) shoots over Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4) during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Clippers 109-105. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Perhaps the most surprising area of dominance in this one came on the glass. The Pelicans outrebounded the Clippers 54-35, led by Asik’s 14. Double-digits in this column always draw positive attention, but Asik has consistently been a force on the boards even when he is not the one collecting them.
He makes great use of his large frame in boxing out opposing rebounders, allowing his teammates to clean up the loose balls. Babbitt and Frazier certainly gave great efforts, but they likely would not have been able to retrieve their respective totals of 8 and 7 rebounds without the work of Asik.
If you are still not convinced this win actually happened, I do not blame you. The Pelicans (26-43) are as shorthanded as ever, and the upside of the healthy roster is almost non-existent.
However, the heart the team gave in defending home court, even against one of the best in the west, cannot be looked down upon. These guys are playing to win, and it is impossible to fault them for that.
Hopefully they can come out with a similar energy against the Miami Heat on Tuesday night (7 P.M. CST)…..