Kings Pelicans Basketball

Sacramento Kings guard Vince Carter dunks over Kings center Kosta Koufos and New Orleans Pelicans forwards Dante Cunningham and Anthony Davis during the second half of Friday's game in New Orleans. The Kings won in overtime, 116-109.

The speech sounds the same.

Yet the lesson doesn’t seem to sink in.

For much of the past three years, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry has pleaded, preached and pounded the lectern about his team’s lack of consistency and its inability to play with enough effort on a nightly basis.

The latest episode reared its head Friday night, when the Pelicans lost 116-109 to the last-place Sacramento Kings in overtime, blowing a nine-point lead in the final three minutes of regulation.

It was New Orleans’ fifth loss in seven games, derailing the momentum it gathered at the end of November.

Frustration reverberated in the Pelicans locker room and at Gentry’s postgame news conference after another struggling opponent to hang around long enough to steal a win on the Pelicans’ home floor.

“You can’t give Knute Rockne speeches every night,” Gentry said. “You know, as an athlete, it’s your job. And it’s our job as coaches (to get them ready). We have to have the energy to go out and play against a team like that and make sure we are getting the job done.

"The worst thing in the world to do, and I’ve done it, is go back and look at the end of the year and go, ‘God, we lost to Sacramento, and this team right here, and we would’ve been in the playoffs.’ ”

The defeat also drummed up a familiar murmur surrounding the team’s direction.

It’s part of a disturbing trend, considering the Pelicans blew double-digit second-half leads in four of their past five losses. The inability to close out opponents and turn a lead into a laugher has caused significant consternation about whether New Orleans is a serious contender in a crowded Western Conference.

The large leads seem to prove the capability and talent are in place, but there’s a missing ingredient preventing the Pelicans from building a comfortable cushion above .500.

“I think it’s more frustrating because it’s all effort and it’s all on us,” Jrue Holiday said. “You can’t really rely on the fans or the level of competition. If you come out and play with the effort we need to play, like we did against Golden State or Cleveland, I feel like (Friday) is a different game. Including myself. I gave up some bad plays.”

The Pelicans won’t have any time to dwell on the defeat. At 6 p.m. Sunday, they match up against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Smoothie King Center, then travel to face the red-hot Houston Rockets on Monday.

It’s a back-to-back challenge likely to test the Pelicans’ mettle, and it has the potential to knock them below .500 for the first time since Nov. 3.

Despite the disappointment from Friday, the Pelicans can take solace in being as healthy as they’ve been all season. Anthony Davis is expected to play a full complement of minutes following his weeklong absence.

And Rajon Rondo, who missed Friday’s game for rest purposes, is expected to return to the lineup as well.

“I felt good,” Davis said about his strained adductor. “It never bothered me.”

Now they just need to find a way to generate enough energy.

It’s a consistent message about inconsistency that has seemingly never stuck, despite an almost entirely overturned roster from Gentry’s first season in New Orleans.

And the Pelicans are keenly aware what losses like Friday’s mean in the big picture of the team’s season-long goals.

“They’re all important, and I know that’s a coach’s thing to say, but they really are all important,” Gentry said. “Because at the end of the year, you’re going to have this big group. There’s going to be eight teams in there competing for five spots (in the Western Conference playoffs) for them. Where are you going to fall in there?”