E'Twaun Moore predicted it correctly.
Thursday, the day before the New Orleans Pelicans avenged an early-season loss with a 111-97 win against the Orlando Magic, Moore was asked by reporters what, specifically, the team must do to repair an up-and-down December where the Pelicans are 5-6 through 11 games.
“We definitely have been slacking on defense,” the shooting guard said. “The energy level, we’ve got to pick it up … Turnovers, I think that’s one area that can help our defense. When we turn the ball over, we’re giving them easy buckets and easy shots at the rim. If we fix that, that’ll help our defense out to get set."
Throughout the season, the Pelicans have reiterated what Moore said Thursday: Reduce turnovers to manufacture a complete game on both ends of the floor, beginning with defense.
New Orleans never trailed in its 14-point road win at Orlando, a team which throttled the Pelicans' poor perimeter defense for a 115-99 win at the Smoothie King Center the day before Halloween. Orlando made 16 3-pointers on Oct. 30.
Friday's game at the Amway Center was much different.
The Pelicans fine-tuned their season-long mistakes, players said afterward. They coughed up 15 turnovers, their fewest in the past five games. New Orleans ramped up its defense to limit Orlando to 42.4 percent shooting from the field and 20 percent (4-20) from beyond the 3-point line. Orlando scored 97 points, the fewest the Pelicans have allowed since the Phoenix Suns scored 91 on Nov. 24.
Moore's assessment was spot on.
"I thought we did a good job with the turnovers, number one, which didn’t compromise our defense very much at all," coach Alvin Gentry told reporters after Friday's win.
“I thought defensively, we were really good," the coach added. "I thought we played one of our better games as far as defensively."
By removing their self-inflicted detriments, the Pelicans gave up one turnover in the opening possession of Friday's game and didn't surrender another in the opening quarter. New Orleans' offense was freed, able to use DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday as it wanted.
The trio combined for 70 of New Orleans' 111 points, the team's 12th-straight game of more than 102 points, dating back to late November. In 11 December games, New Orleans is averaging 115.9 points per game, the league's second-best mark behind the No. 1 Houston Rockets (118.5).
New Orleans’ highest-performing offense credits pace and rhythm to its defense, which the Pelicans were able to finally praise following a game Friday.
“When we defend it gives us a chance to get out and run," Davis said. "When guys get looks in rhythm it creates easy looks at the rim. If we defend, then nine times out of 10 we will have a great game offensively. We just have to keep defending.”
The Pelicans (16-16) will complete a Florida-based back-to-back Saturday at the Miami Heat's American Airlines Arena. Even though Friday's game was a prime example of their winning formula, the Pelicans have been unable to string together many consecutive performances relishing in wins developed by defense.
If they can, what potentially follows has yet to be seen in masses this season.
“I don’t think we’re a .500 team,” Cousins said. “I don’t think we’ve played to our highest level yet. We’re still figuring things out as a team.”