Published February 05, 2017
NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Pelicans and the Phoenix Suns both are headed in the wrong direction, so when they play each other Monday night at the Smoothie King Center, one will escape with temporary relief and the other will continue its ugly free fall.
The Pelicans (19-32) have lost four in a row and five of their last six. The Suns (16-35) have dropped six of their last seven.
What makes it even worse for the Pelicans is the fragile health of All-Star forward Anthony Davis, who tweaked his lower right leg in a 105-91 road loss on Saturday night to the Washington Wizards late in the first half and limped through the rest of the game.
Although Davis continued to play after the first-half injury, finishing with 25 points and 10 rebounds, he was held scoreless in a season-worst, eight-point quarter (25-8 in the fourth) that crushed the Pelicans' hopes to snap Washington's 17-game home winning streak. Leading by three entering the fourth quarter, the Pelicans failed to score in the final 5:50.
The latest collapse prompted head coach Alvin Gentry to do some serious soul-searching. In consecutive road losses to Detroit and Washington, the Pelicans have been outscored 60-25 in the fourth quarter.
Throw in a 12-2 deficit to begin the Washington game -- when the Pelicans committed four turnovers on their first five possessions -- and it was a recipe for disaster and for Gentry's growing frustration.
"Do you want me to really answer or do you want me to give you alternate facts?" Gentry said when asked what had happened. "It was an inability to play the right way. That's what it was -- scoring, defending, staying within the game plan.
"We've gone over it a hundred times. At practice we must have said it 20 times -- we cannot turn the ball over against John Wall. He's a one-man fast break. We did it at the beginning of the game and we did it at the end, and that's the result. That's what you get. You don't score the last five, six minutes of the game, probably you're going to lose the game."
The bigger concern has to be Davis, who was dealing with a right thigh bruise and now has the lower right leg problem.
"At halftime we talked about it," said guard Tyreke Evans. "It looked like he might have pulled something, but he loves the game so much, he does not want to come out. He wants to play but could not really move how he wanted to."
The Suns got a stunning performance from guard Devin Booker on Saturday night against Milwaukee -- Booker scored 27 of his game-high 31 points in a 7:14 span of the second quarter to whittle a 25-point deficit to eight at halftime -- but Phoenix played no defense in a 137-112 loss.
Booker, a second-year guard out of Kentucky, was held to just four free throws in the second half, but coach Earl Watson said he knows he has a special player on his hands.
"What you're seeing right now is a player who, during that stretch, reminded me of Kobe (Bryant)," Watson said. "I'm just being honest with you. What he did was pretty impressive. And the fact that he's only 20, he still hasn't gotten into his grown-man strength yet. Eventually, he will."
Booker scored Phoenix's final 17 points of the second quarter. During the high-octane stretch, he made 9 of 11 from the field, including 5 of 5 from 3-point range and all four free throws.
"It's just that zone," Booker said. "If you play basketball long enough, a lot of people get in that zone. It would've been better if it could've lasted longer."
The Pelicans and Suns have split their first two games this season, both going to overtime, with each team winning on the other's court. Pelicans reserve guard Tim Frazier, who has played little in recent weeks, had a triple-double off the bench (14 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists) in a 120-119 New Orleans victory on Dec. 11. Booker has averaged 27.0 points on .514 shooting in the two games against New Orleans.