PORTLAND, Ore. — After a rocky 0-2 start to this season, the best medicine for the New Orleans Pelicans could be a couple days of practice.
The Pelicans don’t play until Saturday’s home opener against Golden State, so it’s back into the gym to figure out how to fix a defense that can’t seem to get started until it’s too late.
Such was the case Wednesday night, when Portland rolled up 43 first-quarter points on the way to a 112-94 win over New Orleans. The Pelicans couldn’t stop third-year guard C.J. McCollum, who scored 28 of his game-high 37 points during the first half as the Trail Blazers rolled to a 70-43 halftime lead.
This comes a day after Golden State scored 39 points in the first quarter and easily defeated the Pelicans. The Warriors, of course, are the defending champions — but Wednesday was Portland, picked by many to finish near the bottom of the NBA standings this season.
“We’ve got to play tougher D. We got to disrupt what they’re doing. They ran their offense, they got hot and they did things they wanted to do. We’ve got to disrupt,” Pelicans guard Eric Gordon said.
It wasn’t all bad for the Pelicans, who played well in the second half. But clearly, making up a 30-point deficit is usually a ticket to the loss column.
“Obviously it’s a little disappointing the way we started the game. Gave way too many easy baskets, transitions, just drive-by layups,” first-year coach Alvin Gentry said. “You get down 28, 29 points, it’s got to be the perfect storm to come back.”
Allowing the opposition to run up huge numbers, as Portland and Golden State did at times, hit Pelicans forward Anthony Davis from a pride standpoint.
“We want to be a defensive team, but both games we’ve given up over 100, and we’re not going to win like that,” Davis said.
The fixes aren’t simple.
New Orleans, of course, has been beset by injuries. It’s difficult to get in an offensive rhythm on a team where the bulk of its expected point guard minutes either sitting in street clothes, or in the case if Jrue Holiday, on a minutes restriction.
The Pelicans struggled offensively early in Wednesday’s game, and the wealth of missed shots allowed Portland to get its transition game rolling. When New Orleans began running an efficient offense during the second half, the Blazers’ assault on the scoreboard stalled significantly.
The Pelicans shot 31 percent in the first half (15-for-48) and 49 percent in the second half (21-for-43).
“You could say missing shots was part of the problem, because when you’re not scoring they’re a team that can push it at you. We’ve got to be more physical, I would say,” Gordon said.
Gentry dismissed the poor first-half shooting as an excuse for the lackadaisical defense.
“It doesn’t matter for us. Missing shots for us should dictate what our defense is,” Gentry said. “For us, we have to sprint back and get our defense set. They did a good job of attacking, but we have to do a better job of getting our defense set.”
Getting off to better starts isn’t as simple as running a few drills in practice, either.
“We’ve got to get better overall. We have to change our mindset a little bit,” Gentry said. “We have to play like the second half; that’s the mindset we have to have at the start of the game.”
Holiday made his season debut after sitting out against Golden State. During his 20-minute stint against the Blazers — the maximum time he’s currently allowed to play — Holiday hit 5 of 9 shots, scored 12 points and handed two assists. Holiday’s best stint came in the fourth quarter, when he was 3-of-3 from the floor.
Gentry stuck to the plan as far as playing Holiday, giving him six minutes in the first and fourth quarters, and four minutes in the second and third quarters. Gentry admitted it’s tough for Holiday and the team to get in a flow given the restrictions, “but medically, that’s what it is right now. We have to abide by that, so we don’t get ourselves in trouble down the road.”
It was only two games, and Wednesday’s second half was strong for the Pelicans, who outscored Portland 51-42 after halftime. But after an 0-2 start, clearly there are things to fix.
“We still have 80 games left to play. Hopefully this will be something we won’t have to revisit again,” Gentry said.