In a corner of the victorious New Orleans Pelicans’ locker room on Saturday night, the blame game ensued.
But it took on a unique twist.
Rather than pushing responsibility away from themselves, both DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday aimed to claim liability for the Pelicans’ turnover woes.
“I’m the main culprit of the turnovers right now,” Cousins said, when asked how New Orleans racked up a season-most 23 turnovers in a 111-103 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Then Holiday, standing in front of his locker, held up his hand.
“Not today, man, I’ll take that,” Holiday said over the throng of reporters in the midst of Cousins’ response.
But, Cousins wouldn’t back down.
“Nah, it was me, I had eight,” Cousins responded. “I just have to do a better job of taking care of the ball and making better decisions. Luckily the turnovers didn’t affect us today because we were able to pull out the win, but this just can’t be a continuous habit because it can rear up later on.”
The stat sheet confirmed Cousins’ claim and Holiday nodded in surprised agreement.
Cousins’ eight turnovers on Saturday (part of an NBA-most 68 this season) were more than Holiday’s seven. Reserve guards Jameer Nelson and Ian Clark committed three each off of the bench, adding up to one of the sloppiest winning performances in recent memory.
Their desire to own accountability for the problem, however, is emblematic of both the issue and the solution, since New Orleans can be accused of over-sharing the ball and trying to squeeze passes through minuscule lanes, which close quickly.
“I guess when we do something, we do it as a team,” Holiday joked later on.
Cousins’ 35 points, 15 rebounds and takeover performance down the stretch helped overwhelm any errors he caused on Saturday. But, limiting those mistakes is a clear focus when the Pelicans tip off at 7 p.m. against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night in the Smoothie King Center.
“We’re going to have to do something about our turnovers,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “That’s really just the only thing that is hurting us. I think the offensive rebounding thing we’ve taken care of. The only thing left for us to do is make sure we’re not turning the ball over, because 23 turnovers and 33 points (off of them) is way too many.”
The most obvious solution was sitting directly between both Cousins and Holiday during their back-and-forth exchange in the locker room on Saturday.
Point guard Rajon Rondo is expected to return from a core muscle injury by the end of the week and could make his Pelicans debut in Friday’s road game against the Denver Nuggets, according to Gentry.
Getting the services of an experienced floor general who can take some of the ball handling duties from Cousins and Holiday should benefit New Orleans in its quest to limit empty possessions. While Rondo has repeatedly said the offense won’t run exclusively through his hands, thanks to a system predicated on freedom of player and ball movement, getting one of the league’s most prolific passers onto the floor should provide a boon to production.
Without Rondo, the Pelicans are the NBA’s sixth-worst turnover team, committing 16.7 per game. And now, with so many of the Pelicans issues getting rectified en route to a winning record, those mistakes are coming into focus.
"Obviously (Rondo) will have a lot to do with those going down,” Gentry said. “I just think we make some tough decisions in tough situations and we are trying to pass the ball in a real confined area. And what we have got to do is we’ve got to maintain our spacing and move the basketball.
“I think we will get there. Like I said, it’s the last hurdle we have to overcome. I think we are playing unselfish and we are rebounding and we are pushing the ball and playing at a pace that I like, but we have got to find a way to eliminate the turnovers.”