Diagnosing defeat can be a tricky procedure.
Dozens of details can tip the scale between a win and a loss. Pinpointing which ones made the difference takes careful dissection and occasionally seeing beyond the obvious.
In the case of the New Orleans Pelicans’ 115-99 loss to the Orlando Magic on Monday, it was far simpler.
The Pelicans' energy wasn’t there.
Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Ian Clark and coach Alvin Gentry all immediately addressed it after the loss, citing their effort and hustle didn’t match that of the Magic, allowing an eight-point underdog to steamroll its way to a road win in the Smoothie King Center.
On Tuesday, DeMarcus Cousins shouldered a dose of the blame, admitting his performance (which still produced 12 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and seven assists) was listless.
“I kind of take the blame for that,” Cousins said. “My energy was off last night, emotionally, and just being that energy the team was used to having — I wasn’t there. We talked about it. We’re aware of our mistakes, and we’ll have a better showing next game.”
The opportunity for redemption will come at 7 p.m. Wednesday when the Pelicans host the Minnesota Timberwolves to cap a three-game homestand.
Gentry said the Pelicans’ failure to close out on shooters or effectively switch off of screens allowed a bevy of open looks. And they repeatedly paid for those moments of hesitation, surrendering 16 3-pointers.
Once again, Cousins pointed the finger at himself for being distracted and out of the moment, just hours after he was named the Western Conference’s Player of the Week.
“It was from the jump,” Cousins said. “I kind of let some things that happened in the game bother me. I can’t let those things affect my game, my energy or my voice — anything that has an effect on the team. With that being said, myself and everybody else included has to have a better showing.”
The All-Star center was optimistic the Pelicans wouldn’t allow Monday’s clunker to linger, thanks to open dialogue in the locker room, which has allowed players to air grievances and address problems in an honest manner.
“One thing about this team, (which) is something I appreciate, is that we all hold each other accountable,” Cousins said. “We are not scared to tell each other the truth. If I’m doing something wrong, Anthony, Jrue (Holiday), (Rajon) Rondo, Dante (Cunningham) — they’ll all be like, ‘Yo, you need to get your (expletive) together.’ I see AD doing something wrong, I’ll say, ‘AD, get your (expletive) together’.
“That’s something I appreciate about this team, and that’s part of us going to the next level is being able to hold each other accountable. Also, being able to take criticism. I think we are taking the next step into being the team we want to be, but we have to come out and perform every night.”
Now the Pelicans are forced to pivot off of a poor performance, rather than ride the wave of momentum that carried them into the week.
A stretch of three wins in four games pulled New Orleans to a .500 record for the first time in more than two seasons, but several players said Monday’s rude awakening proved they still haven’t reached the required levels of consistency.
It’s a message Gentry has preached nearly every day of his two-plus-year stint with the Pelicans, but the lesson is proving to be difficult to learn. Until it sticks, the Pelicans will be trapped diagnosing not just another loss, but another season missing the playoffs.
“We’re human beings, just like the rest,” Cousins said. “There are days when y’all don’t feel like going to work. Same here. You know? I mean, it’s tough, but it’s part to the job and part of being a professional. We have to come out ready to play every night.”