It’s October. There’s nearly six months remaining on the NBA schedule.
But don’t let the early mark on the calendar underplay the fact that the New Orleans Pelicans missed out on a notable benchmark Monday night.
Playing in their first game as a .500 team (other than 0-0) in 929 days, the Pelicans dropped a 115-99 decision to the Orlando Magic in the Smoothie King Center. It ensured the Pelicans won’t achieve a winning record for at least another four nights.
Instead, New Orleans dropped to 3-4, continuing its dubious streak. Since 2011, the franchise has entered just 58 of its past 482 games with a winning record, and 52 of those came during the 2014-15 season.
The seeds for the most recent denial of crossing the.500 threshold were sown at the start of each half. The Pelicans were punished for their sloppiness at the game’s onset and again at the start of the third quarter, allowing Orlando to pile up 10-plus point advantages in the opening minutes of each.
“You could tell it just wasn’t there,” point guard Jrue Holiday said.
And the Magic buried the Pelicans under an avalanche of 3-pointers along the way. Orlando made 14 of its first 27 long-range attempts and finished 16 of 34, continuing the torrid shooting that carried it to league’s No. 1 ranking.
The Magic certainly didn’t lose any ground against the Pelicans. Led by reserve forward Marreese Speights, who knocked down six of his first nine 3-pointers, Orlando continuously made the Pelicans pay for poor defensive switches and slow close-outs.
“We sucked,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “We sucked. We sucked. I wish there was another way to say that, but we didn’t close out on shooters; they drove the basketball any time they wanted to. If we are going to be a good basketball team, and this is what I’ve been preaching for three years, you have to be consistent every night in what you do and how you approach the game.”
Meanwhile, the Pelicans were also punished for their own lack of shooting range on the other end. New Orleans was a miserable 7 of 28 (25 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc, bringing to the forefront all of the fears about a roster built without a pure shooter.
As Orlando piled up triple after triple, the Pelicans couldn’t effectively counter. Bricks careened from nine different Pelicans.
Outside of a 40-point second-quarter barrage, the Pelicans offense was unable to muster any rhythm. It got so lopsided coach Alvin Gentry pulled his starters with more than two minutes remaining, sending fans to the exits.
“We just have to fight through it,” Anthony Davis said. “That game was definitely winnable all the way until late in the fourth quarter. But you just have to want it, if you want to be an elite team.”
The loss overshadowed another superlative effort by Davis, who piled up 39 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. However, he didn’t receive the type of support he’d been getting from his counterpart in the post, DeMarcus Cousins.
Just hours after being named Western Conference Player of the Week for averaging 33 points and 16 rebounds in three games last week, Cousins was frustrated throughout most of the night, converting just 5 of 14 shots en route to a 12-point, 12-rebound, seven-assist performance.
It was a momentary step back for the All-Star center, who carried New Orleans for much of last week.
In was a hiccup in the growing evidence that the ongoing experiment of co-existing big men is a winning formula for New Orleans. Davis and Cousins entered the night as two of the league’s leading scorers, and the Pelicans were overwhelming opponents when they shared the floor, outscoring them by 13.5 points per 100 possessions.
However, at the start of both halves on Monday, the Magic outscored New Orleans when the stars were paired together, and New Orleans could only piece together a short spurt in the fourth quarter.
Now, after a poor defensive effort and a clunker of a home loss, the Pelicans are forced to wade back into the familiar waters of a sub-.500 record, hoping to find another route to resurface.
“It was a lack of effort,” Gentry said about the Pelicans’ defense. “I just didn’t think we did a particularly good job of digging in.”