The Pelicans will tell you it’s still too soon to panic.
But after Tuesday’s 103-94 loss to the Orlando Magic at Smoothie King Center dropped them to 0-4, the Pelicans also will tell you it’s time to get in gear.
We got a lot of work to do,” coach Alvin Gentry said afterward. “We got a lot of work to do, and it’s time to do it right away.”
Early Tuesday, after the Pelicans’ shootaround, injured center Kendrick Perkins stood in the middle of the locker room and announced to anyone within earshot that, “We need this win tonight like old people need soft shoes,” but the Magic played like the more desperate team early.
Orlando (1-3) raced out to a 28-17 lead, led by as many as 18 points, then held off a late Pelicans rally behind 30 points from Evan Fournier and 22 points and 13 rebounds from Nikola Vucevic.
A 3-pointer from Luke Babbitt pulled the Pelicans within 95-90 with 2:48 to play, and he got an open look from the corner on the Pelicans’ next possession but missed, and Vucevic scored at the other end to put the Magic in front 97-90 with 1:48 to play.
Eric Gordon scored 21 for the Pelicans, who got 14 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots from Anthony Davis, who was 3 for 12 from the floor. Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday scored 14 points each.
But the Pelicans never found a rhythm. They haven’t really yet this season.
Magic coach Scott Skiles said before the game that the Pelicans were a difficult team to scout, with two of their three losses coming against buzzsaw Golden State, results that Skiles said Orlando essentially tossed out in evaluating.
Many of the problems that plagued the Pelicans against the defending champions, though, have carried over to other games.
New Orleans’ transition defense has been shoddy, and it has been porous in the paint — the Magic scored 56 points in the lane on Tuesday. It has allowed too many open 3-pointers — Fournier hit 4 of 9, and the Magic were 7 for 18 overall — and its offense lacks continuity.
“As far as offensively, we were really good at practice yesterday — moving the ball and keeping the spacing and all of that,” Gentry said. “For some strange reason when we line up and start to play games, spacing is not there, the pace of the game is not there.”
It’s not helping that Davis has struggled to find his fit in the Pelicans’ new up-tempo system. He had 14 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots on Tuesday, but shot 3 for 12 from the floor and appeared clearly frustrated in the offense.
“All that frustration is on me,” Davis said. “They’re giving me great opportunities and I can’t find a way to get the ball in the basket.”
No one else is having much success, either. The Pelicans shot 35.6 percent from the floor. They hit 12 of 36 3-pointers, making 3 of 15 in the first half.
Orlando shot 46.7 percent in the game. It had answers for every Pelicans run.
The Pelicans never got closer than on Babbitt’s late 3-pointer.
“Really disappointed,” Gentry said. “Disappointed all-around, really. I didn’t think we competed at the level that we needed to to win. I thought that we didn’t do a very good job defensively. We got back cut. Couldn’t contain dribble penetration. I didn’t think our offense had any rhythm to it.”
The Pelicans remain convinced that rhythm will come.
But they know it needs to arrive in a hurry.
“It’s four games in,” Davis said. “It’s not like it’s do-or-die now. But these are games that we wanted to win early.”
We just got to stay with it and try to figure it out.”