ORLANDO, Fla. — After the way the New Orleans Pelicans limped into the All-Star layoff, Friday presented the opportunity for a fresh start with some of their key pieces back in place.
Anthony Davis was back on the floor. So, too, was Ryan Anderson, despite some late concern that his sore elbow needed another night or two to adequately heal. And even with Jrue Holiday still out, help was coming from the acquisition of Norris Cole.
As fresh starts go, though, this one was a clunker.
New Orleans couldn’t shake a scrappy Orlando squad, and the bottom fell out with a cold-shooting fourth quarter as the Pelicans came out of the break in the same fashion they went into it — on the wrong side of a 95-84 score.
“We couldn’t score in the second half,” coach Monty Williams said after the Pelicans absorbed their fourth straight loss. “They outworked us. They had so many multiple-effort plays that we didn’t react to, whether it was backdoor, off the rebound, whatever the case was.
“We just weren’t ready to play for 48 minutes.”
That’s not an encouraging assessment for the Pelicans (27-27), who fell 2 ½ games behind idle Oklahoma City for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
Orlando (18-39) scored just its third double-digit victory of the season, thanks in large part to a fourth quarter in which the Pelicans couldn’t hit a field goal for the first 8 ½ minutes and wound up with just 13 points.
“We missed shots; they made shots. There’s no other way to put it,” said Davis, who tallied 13 points and 11 rebounds in his return from a sprained right shoulder. “When you’re missing shots and the other team’s making shots, you’re going to lose.”
It was a far cry from the teams’ only other meeting, a 101-84 home romp by the Pelicans in the season opener. Davis had 26 points and 17 rebounds in that one, as New Orleans poured home 64 points in the paint.
But the roles were reversed on Friday, with the Magic scoring 64 points in the paint as guards Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton attacked the lane. Oladipo led all scorers with 22 points; Payton had 10 points and 11 assists.
“Those two really set the tone for us,” said Magic interim coach James Borrego. “Those two are growing together, becoming an unit and they’ll continue to do that.”
Said Pelicans guard Eric Gordon: “We just didn’t protect our paint. We thought they’d go to [Nic] Vucevic a lot, and their guards were just attacking the paint, attacking the paint. We’ve got to do a better job of [defending] that.”
Vucevic had 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Magic. Tyreke Evans led a balanced New Orleans scoresheet with 14 points; Anderson and Quincy Pondexter joined Davis with 13 as the Pelicans shot just 42 percent from the floor.
“We missed a lot of shots, for sure,” Williams said. “But we also gave up a lot of points in the paint tonight, so it was a double whammy for us.”
The Pelicans suited up just 11 players, with Cole, Justin Hamilton and Shawne Williams spending another day in Miami awaiting their new team’s arrival for Saturday night’s tilt against the Heat.
Cole, a third-year pro, had seen his minutes dwindle in Miami and became expendable as the Heat pulled off the blockbuster that landed Goran Dragic. He has value in New Orleans, though, with Holiday expected out another three weeks with a stress reaction in his right leg.
“He’s a guy that I’ve always liked from afar,” Williams said. “When you compete and work like he does on defense, it makes it easier to blend into a team. I think our guys will really like that. It’s going to be a matter of figuring out our schemes and plays.”
Cole is in the final year of his contract, as the Heat passed on offering him a rookie-scale extension in October. The Pelicans can retain him with a $3 million qualifying offer before the July 1 free-agency deadline.
The ex-Heat arrivals will bring the Pelicans up to 14 active players, requiring a roster move before tipoff. …
Friday’s encounter had a little extra spice for Borrego, squaring off against his former boss for the first time since being elevated to the top of the Magic’s coaching ladder two weeks ago.
“It’s good to see that group,” said Borrego, an assistant under Williams for two years before joining the Magic last season. “Monty Williams gave me a great opportunity. I grew under him. He’s a mentor of mine.”
Their relationship goes back to their days on Gregg Popovich’s staff in San Antonio, where they spent countless hours in the video room.
“Gosh, J.B. would be in that [room] all day,” Williams said. “He and Pop were together all the time. He was like Pop’s right-hand guy in San Antonio; spent a lot of time taking Pop film.”