New Orleans Pelicans Sweep the Magic

Published: October 25, 2013

The New Orleans Pelicans enter the regular season on a high note, defeating the Orlando Magic for a second time this preseason, 101-82, bringing the nearly meaningless preseason record to 7-1.

The Pelicans started strongly, outscoring the Magic 21-11 in the second 6 minutes of the first quarter. After a few minutes into the second, Rivers and Stiemsma came in for Evans and Anderson, and the Pelicans hit the brakes, with Roberts, Morrow, Smith, Thomas, and Aminu playing in various combinations with them. The Magic tied the game after a 17-5 run following that substitution with Roberts scoring the Pelicans’ only 5 points. The muscle came back out in the third, and once they Pelicans took the lead 86 seconds into the half, they never gave it up, winning the quarter 28-13. Going into the fourth, Onuaku, Rivers, Morrow, Thomas, and Withey took the floor with Roberts replacing Rivers, then Rivers replacing Morrow. This rotation held up and won the quarter 28-24.

The biggest thing to take from the preseason is that this team, so it seems, is entering the regular season healthy (excepting Darius Miller and his few more weeks of recovery), despite a scare from Withey tonight. Evans returned from his ankle injury in the first game of the preseason 3 weeks ago, and there’s no indication that Gordon is limited, as he scored 68 points on 36 shots in 84 minutes. Smith has returned from a surprisingly short hiatus due to a reported hip impingement. Evans’ 16 minute return was less than spectacular in terms of statistics, but he was present when this team was at its most productive.

The biggest concern with the team is its biggest players. Davis, Smith, Stiemsma, Onuaku, and Withey have reasonable claims on some center minutes through the season. Davis will not get too many minutes in the position, and Smith’s style of play and foul rate keep him from holding down the position for more than around 20 minutes per game. Here’s how the 4 Non-Davis-es (Heyy-eyy-eyy-ey-ey) did in almost 57 minutes tonight: 5 of 12 from the field and 4 of 6 from the line for 14 points, 3 offensive rebounds, 9 defensive rebounds, 4 assists, 8 fouls, 3 turnovers, 0 steals, and 4 blocks to being blocked once. For nearly 5 quarters of output, that is worrisome. Moreover, the Pelicans only had 4 offensive rebounds (Davis had the other) compared to 25 defensive rebounds, which is a paltry success rate. The 31 defensive rebounds may look good, but the Magic had 20 offensive rebounds, giving them an offensive rebounding rate of nearly 40%, which is upsetting. Other than a good showing in Houston, none of the 4ND have had a productive game. Meanwhile, their opponents have had relatively strong performances. Thus, in the games where the Pelicans met or exceeded the points in the paint scored by their adversaries, it was due to Davis, Anderson, and backcourt players. While preseason statistics are highly suspect, the consistent inability of this team to rebound effectively from its 4ND’s is the clearest signal from the murk of the preseason.

This team has potential, and I’m quite excited about it. Until a roster move is made, however, Stiemsma, Withey, and Onuaku need to develop two things: the ability to defend players without fouling, their defensive rebounding skill. There are more things that need learning, but these are the areas that will provide the biggest bang for the buck. Smith has his style and his role. He needs to stick with the plan that’s been laid out for him in his benchergy role.

While Lopez was not a strong rebounder, he could at least compete with NBA players for the ball . . . these other three are borderline: a draft pick and two journeymen who may have continue to grow or may have already reached their potential. Three shots. They only need one to hit, but it has to hit by January if the team wants to make the playoffs with a chance of advancing. If none hit, I fear a playoff berth will merely be the consequence of other teams trying to outlose one another, setting the Pelicans up for being steamrolled.

Don’t focus too much on this, however. If these guys don’t work out, this is a very clear problem with a very clear solution, and it will be solved before the 2014-2015 season tips off. Enjoy the development of the core and root for development of the underdog centers. Pick your favorite, if that helps. Best case scenario is one of them starts to take off, because at that point the proverbial ball is in the Pelicans’ court on all fronts.

Most importantly, however, this team is headed in the right direction and has the actual ball in their court down by the Dome, not wherever on the Pacific coast.

Sit back and enjoy 0-0. Wednesday, it all changes.

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