Pelicans should not take moral victories, but…

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Published: October 21, 2017

Despite my last post here warning fans not to freak out while starting point guard Rajon Rondo is out recovering from sports hernia surgery, the New Orleans Pelicans are off to an 0-2 start and you would think the sky is falling. Sure, it is always frustrating when good starts in games go bad. It also isn’t pleasant to lose your home opener 128-120 to same team you lost the opener to last season. However, it is about 10 times more ill-advised for anyone to feel comfortable about a 17-point lead against the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors than it is for the Atlanta Falcons to feel comfortable about holding a 25-point lead over the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Just as it’s hard for any opposing defense to prevent future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Tom Brady from erasing any size deficit, the Warriors are one of the most dominant teams in the modern era and feature three, possibly four, Hall-of-Fame players. This group has won two-out-of-three NBA Finals and they are not going to feel any pressure facing a deficit, especially one to the Pelicans.

Now, I don’t want to sit here and praise the Pelicans for simply being a challenge to the Warriors. That’s seeing the world through rose colored glasses. Could they have won Friday’s game? Yes. Did they blow it at times? Absolutely. Since we’re dealing with matters of the NBA West, let’s break it all down in the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good

Any time a team loses to the Warriors with a deficit smaller than 10 points it means that team was competitive and gave their best shot to win. If fans want to be angry about a game, be angry at the 103-91 road loss to Memphis, a team with a restructured roster that’s widely not projected to finish in the West’s top 8.

At least against the Warriors, we did see what proper ball movement can do for this team. The Pelicans also didn’t prove how to solve a problem like Golden State, but they did flash a promise that maybe they are on to something with “Do it Big”. Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins scored 35 points apiece and combined for 31 rebounds. At times they were absolutely unstoppable from anywhere on the floor, and other than Draymond Green, their best defensive answers were Zaza Pachulia and Javale McGee.

A bench emerged. Guard Ian Clark who looked bad against Memphis turned in a solid 14 points, and shot 4-for-4 from 3-pt. range. We don’t know if Jordan Crawford is about to become a roster casualty, as speculation of the Pelicans possibly adding another point guard heats up in the absence of Rondo, but he did provide a scoring punch in the second unit with 13 points. Crawford was also 3-for-3 beyond the arc.

Jrue Holiday showed up (somewhat). Holiday was awful against Memphis, scoring only 4 points, but as the ever observant Jason Calmes pointed out in his game notes, there was a notable drop-off in the team when he was not on the floor. Holiday got with it more and bumped up his scoring to 13 points against the Warriors. As the roster stands, double-digit scoring from Holiday has to happen every night for this thing to work.

The bad

Jrue Holiday only scored 13 points. I know I just praised this guy, but after a $126 million contract in the offseason I still need to see a more aggressive shooting guard out there. His shot selection needs to improve late in games too.  As Calmes would point out, we need to see more long twos.

The team is still settling for too much around the perimeter or outside of the paint. What is the point of a #DoItBig campaign if being big isn’t in your blood day and night. There were too many times players wouldn’t take guys into the paint, or guards jacked up 3-pointers when Cousins and Davis had favorable matchups inside. Looking for a big-on-small matchup has to be their instinct. No excuses.

The ugly

While Holiday’s production needs to come up, E’Twuan Moore totaling 0 points on Friday is one of the lowest points in the last two games. There shouldn’t be a guard in today’s NBA that totals no points when they are granted a start. I’m sorry. Think about the idea that any guard du jour gets inserted into the lineup and scores 6-8 points on high percentage shots. That makes a lot of difference in a tight game against a team like the Warriors.

If Holiday is to take on a shooting guard’s mentality, or at least share point guard duties, then the other starting guard needs to at least score or drop dimes. Along with 0 points, Moore provided only 3 assists.

**

It’s important to note that we’re only two games into an 82-game schedule, and one of the opponents the Pelicans faced is one of the greatest teams ever assembled. It’s fair to have concerns at this point, but we have to keep it all in perspective. Although their next three games are on the road, the Pels face the lowly Lakers, Blazers and Kings all in order for next three matchups. With none of these teams expected to be real players for the Western Conference, I feel the Pels can find their groove on this road trip. If they loose all three, then, and only then, will I agree it may be time to don your tin foil hats.

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