WASHINGTON — There isn’t just one answer for why the New Orleans Pelicans offense is trapped in a dizzying spell of ineffectiveness during their three-game losing streak that continued with an 83-80 loss to the Washington Wizards on Saturday night.
Part of the reason New Orleans shot only 37 percent from the field in Washington, coach Monty Williams said, could be because it was the second night of a back-to-back. Another is a frustrating lack of ball movement that partially led to a season-worst 12 assists. Yet another is the simple fact that the Pelicans just aren’t making shots.
The catalyst of it all, though, has been the absence of Eric Gordon. The shooting guard went down with a shoulder injury Nov. 22 and, in the three games since, New Orleans has yet to score more than 91 points or shoot better than 42 percent.
“Offensively, we have so many guys struggling to hit shots,” Williams said. “That kind of stuff happens.”
The problems run deeper than the loss of Gordon, his teammates insist, but his absence is glaring and was most obvious during the Pelicans’ final possession Saturday.
Trailing by three points after a defensive rebound by Ryan Anderson with 11 seconds left, New Orleans needed a quick two or a game-tying 3-pointer. The Pelicans ran a set to get Anderson a look from beyond the arc in the left corner, but the Wizards snuffed it out.
With New Orleans’ first option gone, Tyreke Evans, a career 27.2-percent 3-point shooter, was forced to throw up a 27-footer with the clock winding down. With Gordon in the fold, the Pelicans would have had a second option with a career mark of 36.8 percent from beyond the arc to bail out Anderson.
“We just tried to get a shot off, and they made sure they pressed up on everybody,” forward Anthony Davis said. “And when we got the shot, it was a tough one.”
Williams could live with coming up short against a quality opponent. What frustrated him was that his team made mistakes that cost it a chance at a marquee road win — and even then he was understanding.
A miscommunication on a switch led to a wide-open 3-pointer for Paul Pierce with 2:13 remaining, and a missed box-out let Bradley Beal stretch Washington’s lead to five with a putback in the final minute.
“You look at some of the guys who are put in those positions,” Williams said. “They are not used to being in those positions.”
Third-year guard Austin Rivers wasn’t in the game down the stretch, but Williams still pointed to him as an example of New Orleans’ recent struggles. Pressed into starting duty for the second straight game with Gordon injured, Rivers played 29 minutes, went 1-for-5 and scored just four points.
Williams still expressed optimism in his new shooting guard.
“Austin can score the ball,” he said, “but he’s had a tough time scoring lately.”
And so Williams has looked into other options. Swingman John Salmons played a season-high 25 minutes against Atlanta on Friday and topped that with 28 a day later.
But everyone the Pelicans have tried as a replacement for Gordon has struggled. Whether it has been Rivers, Salmons or Darius Miller, who started against the Kings on Tuesday before being waived Sunday, none has cracked double digits in the scoring column, and the offense has stumbled because of it.
“Sometimes your shot is just not going to fall,” point guard Jrue Holiday said. “Sometimes it carries throughout the whole team. You just have to find a way to fight through it. It’s the NBA. It’s happening to us right now; it’s going to happen to another team down the road.”