Pelicans are among the West’s best, but still growing. Their Utah trip was a reminder – The Athletic

SALT LAKE CITY — The Pelicans started this week riding the type of high this franchise hadn’t experienced in years.

They were in the midst of a seven-game winning streak after consecutive gut-check wins over their new rivals , the Phoenix Suns . Zion Williamson was named NBA Western Conference Player of the Week for the first time after one of his most dominant stretches in a Pelicans uniform. And New Orleans sat atop the Western Conference more than 20 games into the season for the first time in more than a decade.


Considering what this franchise has endured in recent years, the Pels probably deserved a moment to sit back and appreciate the journey. But the NBA regular season is unforgiving. Teams can go from feeling as if they’re on top of the world to sensation as if they are digging themselves out of a hole in the blink of an eye.

It took the Pelicans four days to get there.

New Orleans followed back-to-back wins over Phoenix with back-to-back losses to Ut , the biggest gut punch coming in Thursday’s 132-129 overtime defeat at Vivint Arena. Coupled with Memphis’ current seven-game win streak, the Pelicans have dropped back to second in the West.

The particular Pelicans’ 21-point loss to the Jazz on Tuesday felt like one that could be dismissed as a game they were meant to lose from the start. The shots weren’t falling, Williamson got in early foul trouble and Utah came in with a greater sense of urgency.

Thursday was supposed to be the particular Pels’ opportunity to right that wrong with the focus you’d expect to see from a top-tier team. They did that will for the most part, but ultimately, they squandered the 13-point lead in regulation before floundering in overtime. It’ll be a loss that sticks with them for some time.

In the end, these two deficits aren’t a reason for panic. New Orleans is still only one of five NBA teams with 10 or fewer losses. But these things can start to pile up if they don’t get addressed appropriately.

The particular Pelicans learned before Tuesday’s game that will Brandon Ingram , who missed the last nine games with a toe injury, won’t be back as soon as the team hoped . In their next two games, the Pelicans travel to Phoenix to take on what will undoubtedly be a fired-up Suns squad, then head home to face Milwaukee , one of those 5 teams along with 10 or fewer loss. New Orleans could be staring down a four-game losing streak by the middle of next week.


A lot of work is required for the Pelicans in order to climb towards the top of the West. The next lesson for them has to be learning how to pick themselves up quickly instead of reverting to old tendencies.

“We just took our foot off the gas. That’s all it takes with a good team on their floor, ” mind coach Willie Green said. “(There were) things we can clean up. A lot of good, yet this is a game we know we could’ve played a bit better down the stretch. … The West is competitive. This is what it’s going to be every night. ”

The most frustrating part of these two failures in Utah is the feeling that so many of the mistakes were self-inflicted.

The old adage says that good groups find ways to win plus bad teams find methods to lose. During their seven-game win streak, the particular Pels showed they could find a number of ways to come out with the victory. In Utah, these people kept finding ways to throw the game away.



Jazz continue to find a way in order to win with overtime victory vs . Pelicans

On Tuesday, it was the repugnant offensive execution at every level. On Thursday, it was much more about failing to execute the simple aspects of the game.

Live-ball turnovers had been a problem. The particular Pelicans coughed the ball up 18 times and gave up 33 points off those mistakes Thursday. It’s inexcusable to give away that many points in a game ultimately decided in overtime.

The other issue has been second-chance points. Despite grabbing eight less offensive rebounds than the Pelicans, Utah scored 26 second-chance points — one more than New Orleans. The Jazz missed six field goals and three free throws in overtime, and the Pelicans still only managed to grab two defensive boards.

Ut scored nine points inside overtime, eight of which came from second-chance factors and turnovers. That’s an easy way to grab a loss when the win is within reach.

This isn’t a new issue for the Pelicans. They rank 20th in points allowed off turnovers and 17th in defensive rebounding percentage, despite coming in at 13th and third, respectively, in those categories last time of year. As good as the Pels have been overall, they can be even better by giving themselves more of a chance in the possession battle instead of throwing away so many opportunities. Taking care of those little things is what you would expect to observe from a good team.


“A lot of our turnovers were live-ball turnovers. Anytime you turn the golf ball over and you just give it to them, they’re getting dunks plus 3s, ” Green stated. “With the team like this, you have to value possessions. I didn’t think we did a good enough job associated with valuing the particular ball down the stretch. ”

There also was a clear lack of focus in some crucial moments that cost New Orleans the game when the defense could’ve stepped up the way it has upon numerous occasions this season. Two possessions stand out as plays a young, immature team makes when it doesn’t remain disciplined to the game plan.

With less than two minutes left within regulation, the Pelicans led by 3 and forced Utah to scramble for a look late in the shot clock. The Jazz tried to isolate Williamson on Mike Conley one-on-one in the open court. Instead of trusting Williamson to move his feet and stay in front of Conley, Herb Jones overhelped and left Jordan Clarkson wide open for any 3.

A few possessions later, the Jazz were fighting the shot clock again, and their own offense went into scramble mode after Clarkson dove on the floor to recover a ball he dribbled away his foot. Clarkson managed to get the basketball back and tossed it in order to Conley. The particular veteran point guard drove into the lane, and once he noticed Naji Marshall overhelp on the wing, Conley swung it to Lauri Markkanen to get a wide-open 3.

On both events, the Pelicans were too aggressive chasing after Conley, that finished along with four points on 1-of-8 shooting. Clarkson and Markkanen, on the other hand, combined to score 70 of the team’s 132 factors, going 12-for-23 from the 3-point line. That is an example of finding a way to drop rather than forcing the other group to beat you.

“We let Lauri get some open 3s and let him get some separation. But the one you have to point out will be (Clarkson), ” Larry Nance Jr. said. “He’s a tough shot maker. If he’s hot, you can have a hand there, and he doesn’t see it. ”

Even with Thursday’s loss, the Pelicans are 8-4 in games that were within five points in the final five minutes. That’s a vast improvement over the 14-18 mark they had in all those games last season. However , they are 1-4 in overtime games this season and 6-7 on the road. As great as New Orleans has looked when it’s flying higher, there are some concerns about how well this team handles adversity in important moments.

Having Ingram back in the lineup certainly would resolve some of those problems. But the standard for this group has to be higher if they want to be viewed as a contender . Coming up with those winning plays is usually something they have to do more consistently. It has to become the particular fiber associated with what they are as a team.

That’ll come over time. But it starts with eliminating the minor, self-inflicted wounds that can wreck the team that will seemingly offers all the tools necessary to earn. These lessons will benefit New Orleans when the online games become more meaningful.

“I would prefer to win all of them, but it is good because it gets you used to playing in highly contested games. It gets you used to having to perform in half court. It teaches you to benefit each possession a little more, ” CJ McCollum said. “Understanding why you got to overtime plus understanding how to carry out in overtime in order to get a victory. Hopefully, these overtimes pay dividends for us down the stretch of the period and we’re a little bit better, a little more crisp. ”

(Photo of Zion Williamson and Walker Kessler : Jeffrey Swinger / USA Today)



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