DALLAS — It’s a long season.
That has been a familiar refrain for the New Orleans Pelicans throughout their slow start. The players have said repeatedly it’s not time to panic.
But after a 107-98 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday at American Airlines Center dropped the Pelicans to 0-6, there was an admission that it’s time to think about the big picture.
Coach Alvin Gentry admitted he’s concerned about the hole the Pelicans are digging themselves. He didn’t need Saturday’s loss to make that happen.
“I worry about it after one game,” Gentry said. “I just think that we’re in a situation where we’re in a very tough division, we’re in an unbelievable conference. So it’s tough enough to make the playoffs when you’re playing well. You start off 0-6, it’s not what we anticipated and it’s not a situation where it’s easy to dig yourself out of.”
There were familiar problems for the Pelicans on Saturday, starting with a roster depleted by injuries. Point guard Jrue Holiday sat out against the Mavericks — the status quo for now in one of back-to-back games as he recovers from a stress reaction in his right leg — and Tyreke Evans, Omer Asik, Quincy Pondexter, Norris Cole and Kendrick Perkins remained sidelined.
Anthony Davis scored 25 points for the Pelicans. Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon added 21 each and Toney Douglas 11, but no other Pelicans player had more than eight points.
Still, there are other problems. Leading 48-42 at halftime, the Pelicans broke down defensively in the second half, allowing 65 points, including 35 in the decisive fourth quarter.
Some of that might be execution. Some of it, Davis said, is effort.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Davis, who led New Orleans with 25 points. “We’ve got to come out and compete to a level where when the game’s over, we’re drained and we’re not doing that right now. We only compete in spurts or two quarters or three quarters. We’ve got to find a way to compete for the whole 48.”
Dallas made its first six shots in the fourth and opened it on a 21-8 run to take a 93-78 lead with 7:01 to play. The Mavericks stretched that lead to 16 on a J.J. Barea 3-pointer with 6:06 to play.
The Pelicans let Dirk Nowitzki get in a zone — he scored nine of his 18 points in the fourth quarter — and in one stretch of less than three minutes gave up three and-one opportunities on drives to the basket.
“We’re playing hard. We’re not always playing smart,” Gentry said. “We’ve got to play hard and smart. We’ve just got do a better job defensively. We’ve got to do better job of keeping people in front of us. We’ve got to do a better job with our rotations.”
That’s a team-wide problem, Davis said, and not restricted to the Pelicans’ perimeter defenders. There were “some guys on their team that drove past me a couple times, drove past all our bigs,” Davis said.
Perhaps most alarming for the Pelicans at 0-6 is that Davis said the Mavericks — who visit Smoothie King Center on Tuesday — “started playing harder than us and they wanted it more.”
“It’s just frustrating,” Davis said. “Never in a million years would you have thought we’d start 0-6, but we are. So we’ve just got to find a way to get on a roll where we get a couple wins. Our mindset’s got to be ready for these same guys Tuesday and get a win at home.”
It’s still early. The Pelicans know that.
They also know that they need to get on track if they hope to still be playing late.
“It’s a long season and, somewhere along the line, we’ll get it turned around,” Gentry said. “But we have to have a sense of urgency in doing that.”