The Pelicans continue to struggle, and frustration is starting to show.
Friday night’s 104-88 loss at Phoenix was the latest ugly setback for New Orleans, which entered Sunday’s game at Denver with a 7-19 record and nine losses in its past 11 games. More alarming, though, is the regular recurrence of flat, uninspired performances.
New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters after Friday’s loss to the Suns that he would sum up the Pelicans’ performance as “terrible, terrible, bad effort, not playing hard, not giving a damn.”
“I couldn’t say it no better,” forward Anthony Davis told reporters after the game. “We played terrible. We weren’t competing; we didn’t play hard. They just did whatever they wanted, and we acted like we didn’t want to be here. So the result is, we lose by whatever we lost by.”
The Pelicans are losing by an average of 11.8 points per game. And though there are fundamental execution issues — many on defense, but plenty on offense, too — the team’s effort frequently has been subpar.
That came to a head in a loss last week in Boston after which New Orleans seemed at least to be playing harder, but the same issue reared its head in Phoenix.
As the Suns built their lead, the Pelicans’ frustration showed. Davis in particular seemed disheartened.
Davis came into the season expecting the Pelicans to take a step forward from last season’s 45-win team, which reached the playoffs before being swept in the first round by eventual NBA champion Golden State.
Instead, New Orleans has struggled, and Davis has been far less productive than in his breakthrough 2014-15 season. Last season, Davis led the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating — a formula that attempts to determine a player’s overall statistical contribution — at 30.89, more than twice as high as the league average. This season, Davis ranks 12th in the NBA at 24.02.
John Calipari, who coached Davis in college at Kentucky and keeps in contact with him, said his former player is “devastated” by the Pelicans’ start.
“I tell him, ‘Just keep leading,’ ” Calipari said. “You’ve got to make guys understand they’ve got a chance.”
The Pelicans have battled injuries all season, and Calipari said Davis is “on a team that doesn’t have enough pieces.”
But lately, key players have returned. Guards Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole missed the first 17 games but have played in the past nine — and New Orleans is 3-6 since they returned.
On Friday, the Pelicans struggled to score — they shot 36.6 percent from the floor and 18.2 percent from 3-point range — but they had more pressing issues on defense. The Suns shot 52.4 percent, scored 52 points in the paint and turned 21 Pelicans turnovers into 20 points.
“We’re going to miss shots, but we’ve still got to rely on our defense,” Davis said. “They killed us on fast-break points ... points in the paint. We’ve just got to be better. We want to win; we’ve got to be better in all those categories. We can’t have teams outhustle us (to) 50-50 balls, and we just acted like we didn’t care.”
That indifference appears to be New Orleans’ biggest issue as it enters Sunday night’s game at Denver, the final stop on a five-game road trip that the Pelicans have started 1-3.
“We’ve got to have a way better effort than we did (Friday), end this trip with a win and go back home and try to take care of business,” Davis said. “But we can’t expect to win if we’re giving up that many points and we’re not playing defense.”