Familiar issues keep new-look Pelicans from first win with DeMarcus Cousins

NEW ORLEANS -- The change in the New Orleans Pelicans franchise has been palpable since news of their trade for DeMarcus Cousins coursed through their home arena after the All-Star Game and quickly relegated Anthony Davis' record-breaking MVP performance to an unread tab in your browser.

Cousins' physicality has provided a renewed level of toughness in the paint and on the boards for a team that had drifted more and more toward the perimeter in a preferred small-ball look. And, perhaps as a result, the Smoothie King Center has felt a jolt -- even during Mardi Gras -- in the new Pelicans superstar's first two home games.

But the lack of late-game execution that felled the team that rode a scrappy offense and a switch-happy, formidable defense to 23 wins before the All-Star break have not, apparently, been left behind in its identity shift to a star-studded outpost.

With a first win with Cousins in the lineup in reach, a Pelicans team that ranks second-to-last in the NBA in crunch-time offensive rating turned the ball over seven times in the fourth quarter and overtime -- including on Kawhi Leonard's game-saving strip of Jrue Holiday with 43 seconds left in the fourth quarter -- and ultimately lost to the San Antonio Spurs, 101-98.

"Every night I look on this sheet and I see 17 turnovers, 17 points; 20 turnovers, 22 points; 19 turnovers; 20 turnovers," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. "You're not going to beat a team -- a real, real quality team -- when you're turning the doggone ball over. And not really forced turnovers, they're bad decisions. And we've got to make better decisions."

Down three with 16 seconds left in overtime, Holiday drove into the heart of the Spurs' defense but couldn't get an 11-footer to fall.

Asked if the play was designed for a quick two points, Gentry said, "He saw an opening and he went."

Said Holiday: "I really looked to get it inside, but I feel like they defended it well. Didn't want to run too much time off the clock, so I tried to get a quick two."

After struggling to find his place with the changes to the Pelicans' roster the first three games, Holiday maintained the aggressiveness Friday that he flashed in a 22-point game against Detroit on Wednesday. Holiday took 27 attempts from the field -- nine more than both Cousins and Davis and two shy of his career high -- and made 12, finishing with 26 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists.

But the 26-year-old couldn't quite finish off the moment, including two missed midrange pull-ups on crucial late possessions.

And while Pelicans holdovers Holiday and Davis each put up three shot attempts in the overtime period, Cousins was limited to a final 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

"The ball has to go into him more," Gentry said. "The more [Cousins] creates double-teams, the easier the game is on the perimeter. We have to get him the ball. We have to get him the ball and we have to get A.D. the ball. And create double-team situations where it then frees up perimeter shots."

Cousins finished with 19 points on 7-for-18 shooting and 23 rebounds, the most in franchise history and the second most of his career, but was he held scoreless from the field after the third quarter.

"He's more than doing his part," Gentry said.

Cousins, for his part, didn't shy away from his own two turnovers in overtime.

"It's unfortunate," he said. "Just bad execution down the stretch."

Davis, who finished with 29 points and nine rebounds, said he can see the signs of progress, even amid another difficult loss. In the first half alone, the Pelicans shot 65 percent from the field when Cousins and Davis touched the ball compared to 25 percent when they didn't, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"We're starting to figure some stuff out," he said. "But we have to figure out how to convert them to wins."

But now down 4 1/2 games in the chase for the Western Conference's final playoff spot, Gentry kept coming back to the bottom line.

"When we look down here and see 17 turnovers, 17 points, it's too much to overcome against a real, real quality team," Gentry said. "So we've got to get that s--- out of our game, and if we do, then we'll be fine."