Just when the clouds appeared to be clearing, the New Orleans Pelicans are fighting through the storm again.
In just 26 hours at the Smoothie King Center the Pelicans’ three-game winning streak morphed into a dreadful two-game losing skid. New Orleans lost a 105-103 decision to the New York Knicks a night after getting beaten by the last-place Dallas Mavericks, dropping the Pelicans down to .500 and sprouting familiar questions about this team’s ability and competitiveness.
“We’ve come back well when we’ve played a game like we did (Friday),” Gentry said prior to Saturday’s tip. “We seem to re-focus and play better basketball.”
Not this time.
Unlike the aftermath of ugly losses to the Sacramento Kings, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards, there was no prideful bounce back or moment of regrouping.
Instead the Pelicans came out flat for the second time in two nights. This time, instead of getting lit up on the defensive end, as they were when Dallas dropped 77 points in the first half, New Orleans was squelched on the scoreboard early and fell apart late.
Kristaps Porzingis helped erase an eight-point Pelicans lead in the final three minutes, reeling off a 7-0 run as part of his 30-point outburst. His jumper, dunk and corner 3-pointer wrestled a late lead away and flipped the outcome just when it appeared New Orleans was primed to pounce.
Former Pelicans’ point guard Jarrett Jack (whose had two stints in New Orleans) finished it off, taking advantage of Jrue Holiday’s foul with 9.1 seconds remaining by burying a pair of free throws, handing the Knicks the ultimate advantage.
“You have to be able to close out a game like that,” Gentry said. “We had every opportunity to and we didn’t. They did. They came back and made some shots.”
Anthony Davis’ buzzer-beating attempt nearly reversed the decision, but it rimmed out, sending New Orleans to a middling 9-9 record on their home court.
“It was a great shot,” Gentry said. “We didn’t knock it in, but I’ll take that shot any time.”
The Pelicans entered the night boasting a Top 5 offensive rating, but scored just 30 points in the first 18 minutes. The Knicks opened up a 15-point lead midway through the second quarter and used the cushion to fend them off late.
Even the Pelicans’ reliable aspects, like their formerly league-leading 3-point shooting or proficient work in the paint, were smothered by an energetic Knicks defense eager to snap a four-game losing skid and tally just their third road win of the season.
“I’m not frustrated,” Anthony Davis said. “We’re fine. We just have to take care of business on the road. We have to get back to playing how we were playing before, which is with a lot of energy. But, I’m not frustrated. I’m disappointed we dropped these two.”
In particular, the Knicks took advantage of a disheveled Pelicans’ bench, with their reserves outscoring New Orleans’ 42-10. It was led by the rejuvenated Michael Beasley, whose 15 points charged the Knicks’ second unit.
For a moment, however, it appeared the Pelicans had calmed the waters.
Davis’ takeover performance in the third quarter erased a 15-point deficit and served as the most crucial moments of his 31-point, nine-rebound outing.
He generated a 7-0 run on his own, part of his 14-point quarter, pulling New Orleans back into contention. DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday then piggybacked on Davis’ dominance, stretching out the run to 22-4 early in the fourth, pushing the Pelicans lead into seemingly comfortable territory.
Then, it simply disappeared.
Now, the Pelicans find themselves wading back into mediocrity and wading into dangerous territory as the midpoint of the season approaches. While New Orleans is still firmly in the Western Conference playoff chase for the first time in three years, it’s been unable to unglue itself from the No. 8 spot and each dose of momentum has been followed by a dollop of dispiriting losses.
They won’t have a chance to regroup until 2018, starting the new year on a two-game road trip in Utah and Minnesota, forced to face adversity yet again.