Pelicans shootaround update by HUB International: NOLA must improve defense, reduce turnovers to win more consistently

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

WASHINGTON – No NBA team is shooting three-pointers better than New Orleans (15-15) in the month of December. Only two teams – Houston and Cleveland – are playing offense at a higher rate this month. For the Pelicans to more consistently win, however, they’ll need to shore up at least two other aspects of the game, turnovers and defense.

New Orleans enters Tuesday’s tough road test in our nation’s capital having alternated wins and losses every game since a Dec. 1 defeat at Utah, which was followed up by a Dec. 2 victory in Portland, despite Anthony Davis being sidelined. That trend has continued even though the Pelicans have tallied 113.3 points per 100 possessions in December, the NBA’s third-best efficiency. The problem has been that New Orleans is also ranked last in defensive rating over the same time frame, allowing 112.6 points per 100 possessions. The Pelicans are 25th in turnover percentage (15.7) this month, which is a problem by itself, but exacerbated by opponents frequently capitalizing on those miscues by scoring at the other end. In Friday’s overtime loss in Denver, the Nuggets tallied a whopping 32 points off turnovers.

“We turn the ball over a lot lately, especially late in games, and take bad shots,” said Pelicans four-time All-Star forward Anthony Davis, alluding to team’s recent negative trend of not consistently being able to hold double-digit leads. “We’ve got to limit those possessions where we don’t have shots at the rim. We can’t have that.”

That’s a critical emphasis against Washington (16-14), which has one of the speediest point guards in the league, John Wall, able to push the ball against any team slow to get back in transition. It’s one reason the Wizards have gone 9-1 against the Pelicans over the past five seasons, the duration of Davis’ NBA career.

“They’ve got two great guards, Brad (Beal) and John,” Davis said at Tuesday’s shootaround in Capital One Arena. “Both can score. Of course our team is a lot different than it was in past years, adding new guys. It’s going to be a fun matchup tonight.

“We’ve got to try to limit their guards, knowing that those two can get it going very quickly, especially here at home. We want to make sure we punish them inside, and have our shooters be ready to shoot the ball.”

Other notes after shootaround in downtown Washington:

New Orleans ranked just 26th in the NBA in three-point percentage in October and November, but is No. 1 in the league over the first 18 days of this month, shooting a scorching 47 percent from the arc. E’Twaun Moore leads the league at 64.4 percent in December (29/45), but he’s not alone in high-level accuracy. Rajon Rondo in a somewhat small sample is shooting 50.0 percent (12/24), while DeMarcus Cousins is at 47.1 percent (24/51). Jrue Holiday and Darius Miller are also above 40 percent this month on treys. …

With no other top-nine Western Conference team playing Tuesday, New Orleans will be either seventh or eighth place following its game at Washington, moving slightly ahead or behind Oklahoma City (15-15) depending on the outcome. Ninth-place Utah (14-17) is 1.5 games behind NOLA. …

Since changing its nickname to the “Pelicans,” the New Orleans franchise has not win a game in Washington, with the last victory coming on New Year’s Day in 2011. Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor were the then-Hornets’ top scorers in that game, producing 22 and 17 points, respectively.