Deficiencies are deficiencies, and the Pelicans’ 110-90 defeat to the Orlando Magic in their first road venture of the season just as easily could have been framed in teal.
The young Pelicans couldn’t crack Orlando’s interior defense or find much of a rhythm from outside in falling to 0-2. The Magic were knocking down shots from just about everywhere, with Arron Afflalo’s 30 points pacing six players in double figures.
“We just wasn’t us tonight,” said guard Eric Gordon, whose 12 points came on 4-of-11 shooting. “A lot of things just didn’t work for us out there. (The Magic) ran their same plays. We all know they’re an aggressive, athletic team. We just should have played better.”
The Magic, winners of an NBA-low 20 games last season, hit 56 percent of their field-goal attempts. Afflalo knocked down 10 of 14 attempts, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
Maurice Harkless added 20 points, and reserve Kyle O’Quinn scored 14 on 6-of-8 shooting.
For a while, it appeared the Magic (1-2) might eclipse last year’s best shooting percentage by a New Orleans opponent. Miami knocked down 61.0 percent of its shots in a March meeting; Orlando was at 60.8 percent after three quarters but finished at 55.7.
Remember, this was essentially the same Orlando squad that the Pelicans beat twice in the preseason, including a 101-82 thumping on the same Amway Center floor just seven nights earlier.
“Teams have raised their level since the regular season started,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said.
Nor do the Pelicans have any time to dwell on the performance, returning home for Saturday night’s game against Charlotte. Then again, that might not be such a bad thing.
“This one’s behind us,” point guard Jrue Holiday said. “I don’t think anybody’s thinking about this one anymore.”
Said Williams: “To be honest with you, I wish we had a day of practice.”
Anthony Davis led New Orleans with 26 points and 17 rebounds, but that was the lone bright spot as the Pelicans shot 34.8 percent. Even with eight offensive rebounds, Davis knocked down just 9 of 23 shots. Holiday added 17 points on a 7-for-19 performance, and Anthony Morrow had 14 off the bench that included four 3-pointers.
The other Pelicans were stone cold. In addition to Gordon’s struggles, Jason Smith hit just 3 of 12 attempts, and Tyreke Evans missed all seven that he launched.
“I don’t know what our percentage in the paint was tonight,” Williams said. “I just know we missed a lot of shots.”
Credit Orlando’s interior defense, which usually forced any Pelican who drove the lane into an off-balance attempt that all too often caromed off the rim. The Magic blocked seven shots, with O’Quinn coming up with four.
Then, when the Pelicans kicked the ball out for a jumper, they didn’t fall nearly often enough.
“It kind of messes up your rhythm when you try and go to the basket and you’re missing,” Holiday said, “or you have wide-open shots that you usually make and you don’t make them. You start thinking a little bit.”
Williams said that’s the trap a young team — the Pelicans’ average experience is the lowest in the league — has to recognize and avoid.
“Our first half, I think we allowed our offense to dictate the rest of the game,” the coach said. “Being a young team, we’ve got to play extremely hard. … We saw that the other night (in a 95-90 loss to Indiana). When Indiana didn’t make shots, they just kept playing hard. We have to play with a sense of urgency on every possession.”
The Pelicans led just once all evening: Davis’ short hook to open the scoring. Orlando’s Jameer Nelson countered 19 seconds later with a 3-pointer, and that was the last New Orleans saw of the lead.
Even so, it remained reasonably close until the Magic used a 21-8 outburst in the final seven minutes of the second quarter to take a 53-35 lead into halftime.