Pelicans Defeat Mavericks with Solid Effort and Play

Published: January 3, 2016

The New Orleans Pelicans (11-22) finally put together a solid game on the road against (I hate) the Dallas Mavericks (19-15), defeating them 105-98. The Pelicans are 4 games behind the 8th place Houston Rockets in the long race for the Western Conference playoffs. 5 teams remain between the Pelicans and the 8th seed, plus the 8th seed, once you factor in current tie-breakers. It’s a long road, but at least it’s still a long season.

From the outset, it was the Pelicans leading the way. Though they lost the lead at points, the Pelicans, uncharacteristically, never really lost their energy. As noted in the pregame article,

As such, there are no obvious soft spots to attack for the Pelicans, which means the Pelicans have to do their own thing and do it well. That means dictating the pace. That doesn’t mean “run run run.” That means moving the ball, getting into the offense, resetting when necessary, taking the first acceptable shot and getting back on defense. It’s more about dictating than pace.

This is what happened, and they won. The execution was not flawless, but it’s not flawless on any team. The execution was good, however, and certainly better than recent execution and much better than recent execution on the road, even in their road loss in Miami. The Pelicans forced overtime in Miami, but that’s after a very volatile game of runs and one where they could not close out the game to avoid overtime.

The Pelicans dictated the pace, probing for shots, but not being too fearful to shoot. They passed well, were aggressive on defense, and looked for the open shooters on offense. They also rebounded very well. The end result is, though the Mavericks challenged all game, the Pelicans were able to keep it close when behind but were largely able to keep the them at bay when it counted.

I was told this simply would not happen, that the Pelicans do not do dictate the pace. Well, the data from the season does not support this and neither does the data from this game. What is supported is that early on, the Pelicans lacked the talent to win and dictate the game, just perform quickly . . . and poorly. As they got their players back, the wins started coming, but not enough, and everything was to blame including Gentry, tanking, basketball IQ, bad fit, and even Anthony Davis being mediocre, but they were, at times, being decisive. The issue was not a lack of ability, but a lack of consistency.

Of these, the idea of basketball IQ is the only on that holds water. If they were tanking, they just wouldn’t play Holiday, and the Davis comment is some combination of pure laziness and pure ignorance. If Gentry, meaning him and his staff, is the problem, then I don’t know how the team is clearly improving (from very disappointing to disappointing to hmmmmm), even while missing some player-minutes, and the same goes for bad fit. This leaves the idea of basketball IQ.

I really don’t like this term since it’s pretty broad, but I see the problem as pretty specific. Tonight, the team was without Tyreke Evans, and Evans has the clearest issues with fundamental basketball. He’s talented and instinctive, and this cuts both ways. Between this and playing on bad teams in recent years (New Orleans and Sacramento), the team basketball is just not at the level it needs to be with Evans. He lifts the team with his talent, but not as much as he should with his talent channeled into team play.

When plays get fumbled from the get go from get-go on a basic level, it sucks the wind out of a team. The ripple effect is clear both in the botched plays, as the timing is completely off, as is the psyche of the team, at least at times.

If anything, this game provides some evidence that the issues are not any of lazy, casual, unsupported theories, but something subtle, because who really thinks about this at the pro level and you really don’t have to worry about it in video games which is where many loud voices get their “training” in analyzing basketball, yet hard to fix. Tyreke running the second unit would be an improvement for all, as I stated before, and it just may be that this recent knee issue may provide a very conveniently-timed window that can allow Evans to be reinserted into the rotation following Holiday’s regaining of the reins of the team as starting Point Guard as soon as his restrictions are lifted, which will be soon if all goes as expected. Pondexter should also be close to returning. He would strengthen the case of Evans running the second unit, and perhaps not closing out the game. Pondexter, after all, is a very sound player when healthy.

The Pelicans next play against the Mavericks on Wednesday at the Smoothie King Center at 7:00 pm CT (UTC -6). The Mavericks host the Kings the night before. The game can be seen on Fox Sports New Orleans and can be heard on the Pelicans Radio Network, 99.5 FM locally.


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