Pelicans lose big to the Trail Blazers

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Published: December 20, 2014

Tonight nothing seemed to work. The Pelicans strength has been their offense and a lot of that is due to Anthony Davis’ stellar play. For proceedings this evening Davis was struggling. The Blazers did an excellent job defensively forcing him into tough shots and making sure that when he missed they pushed the ball up the court.

Not only did the Blazers do a masterful job defensively, they put the ball into Aldridge’s hands who outplayed his counterpart in every conceivable way. Most of his work came off pick and roll/pop rubs where Davis would hedge. This would create enough room for LaMarcus to get to the basket or take a good mid-range look.

Things didn’t get much better after the first half. It was more of the same. Jagged offense was complemented by defense that was out of sorts and unsure of how to limit their opponents. Damian Lillard hit a long three at 5:56 in the third to put Portland up 29 and things were pretty much done.

Observations

  • There was a telling period early in the first quarter. The Blazers missed a layup and the ball bounced of the rim towards several Pelican potential rebounders. Instead of being able to pull the ball in, it ricocheted off several hands then into the grasp of a Portland Trail Blazer. Another miss, another offensive rebound and then another before a mid-range jumper was splashed in. It seemed that since that sequence the Pelicans just couldn’t get into things. When easy look opportunities were missed it seemed to manifest itself more as time went on.
  • Give credit to Portland. They were 4-1 on back to backs tonight, but coming off a triple overtime win. From the very beginning they were moving the ball, cutting and playing with energy on defesne. They are a better team and their record conveys that.
  • I must have a bit of a diatribe about the Pelicans defense. For most of the season we’ve known of their struggles on that side of the court. It’s not so much what goes wrong as that they haven’t found a way to do things well. There isn’t really an aspect of the defense that excels outside of Anthony Davis blocked shots and the occasional steal (rank 19th in the league). The pick and roll is where much of the problems starts and end. The players seem unsure of how to defend this. The big man will do one thing with the guard playing it another way. Both might go with the ball and leave the big man wide open for a jumper. Sometimes the guard gets stuck behind the pick and the big man stays on his man giving the ball handler an easy lane to the basket. I don’t know how this aspect of the game improves; I’m not a professional basketball coach. What I can say is that the team is young and has played very little together. But, I am still concerned that progress has yet to be made defensively and any qualifier used prior to criticism doesn’t alleviate concerns for this season.
  • Austin Rivers had a pretty solid game this evening. 21 points on just 9 shots (56% from the field), 11-12 from free-throw land, 3 assists, 0 turnovers. He was in control for much of the game but the reason he had a good one was two things: one, he was hitting tough layup shots and two he hit his free-throws. I really hope that Rivers continues to put out performances like this. What would help is if he could hit some more threes. It would added a second dimension to his game which he sorely needs if he isn’t hitting his layups or getting to the line.
  • Ryan Anderson was doing work on offense but he’s a big part of the defensive struggles. Chris Kaman pretty much bullied him for post-position and when matched up against the athletic Thomas Robinson he was beat for easy dunks. How the Pelicans develop on defense will depend a lot on how Ryan figures out how to improve. It seems that teams are quietly figuring out that running sets through the man who Anderson is guarding is working more often than not.

I would advise fans not to over-react too much to tonight’s game. The Pelicans were playing very good basketball prior to this. They beat a good Rockets team as well as a very competent Cleveland outfit. Tonight was an extension of the Pelicans issues. They’re a bad defensive team and are far too reliant on their 2-man offensive game-plan. They weren’t passing the ball and sort of imploded in on themselves. It doesn’t mean this is a sign of things to come though. We’ve been here before. In fact, we’ve been in an almost exact opposite situation when the Pelicans completely destroyed the Minnesota Timberwolves.

To clarify this further it also means that the issues displayed tonight are not glossed over. This is a young team that needs time to develop. We mentioned in today’s pre-game post that the top lineup has played just over 140 minutes together. Portland’s top lineup has played over 450 minutes together.

Tomorrow the Pelicans take on the Oklahoma City Thunder who will be without Kevin Durant.

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