Pelicans’ lack of hustle inexcusable

Monty Williams is asking for a big fan turnout for the Pelicans’ game against Dallas on Friday night.

“Except for that guy behind me screaming the whole game about what I should be doing,” he said following Wednesday’s not-as-close-as-it-sounds 102-96 homecourt loss to Washington in an at-best half-filled New Orleans Arena that nonetheless was deemed sold out.

Good thing that guy wasn’t Tom Benson.

With his football team in the NFL’s final eight, there’s no way Mr. B can be happy about his basketball team quickly taking itself out of contention to make the NBA’s final 16.

Especially after the summer moves to accelerate the franchise’s playoff potential.

Maybe that’s why, for only the second time this season, he left his midcourt seat at halftime.

And maybe that push was more wishful thinking than reality.

The Pelicans entered the season with the fewest average games of NBA experience among all NBA rosters. Churning the bottom of the roster hasn’t changed that.

Trying to move up in the Western Conference is no picnic either.

Obviously injuries have hurt. Jrue Holiday is the only player to not have missed a game.

And the most recent casualty has been the costliest of all. Forward Ryan Anderson, the team’s leading scorer and top 3-point threat, it out indefinitely with a herniated disc.

You just don’t go “next man up,” to replace a player like that.

But still ...

That doesn’t excuse lack of effort by the other players or lack of motivation and adjustments from the coach.

Second-half collapses on the road against powerhouses Indiana (55-33) and Miami (64-39) while dealing with weather issues is one thing.

Being outscored 33-16 in the second quarter by the Wizards after ending the first period tied at 28 is something else.

The most telling stat of the quarter — Washington, ranked 21st in the league in rebounding — beat the Pelicans on the boards 12-3.

The last, a tip-in by Jan Vesely at the buzzer while everybody else stood around, exemplified the Pelicans’ lack of hustle.

Anthony Davis didn’t even seem to realize that his team’s putrid performance came before halftime.

“We know what the other team is going to come out and do in the second half,” Davis said. “We’ve just to match to match the energy, match whatever it is they’re doing.

“All of the things we do well in the first half, we’ve got to do it again in the second half, especially when we have a team on the ropes.”

Eric Gordon was more realistic about the effort.

“You’ve got to have a sense of urgency when you’re playing at home against anybody,” Gordon said. “Washington is team we can beat.

“They’re not like a high-powered superstar team. But they really played hard.”

As Gordon, who had 23 points Wednesday, said, the Wizards (16-17) are supposed to be a team everybody else beats up on.

They were 0-4 in road games against Western Conference teams before Wednesday, and like the Pelicans, on the back end of a back-to-back, albeit a 97-83 victory at Charlotte.

And now, for the immediate future, the road for the Pelicans gets tougher, although it’s also full of opportunity.

Over the next eight days they play five games, four of them at home, against Western teams, all ahead of them in the standings — Dallas on Friday and in Big D on Saturday and then San Antonio, Houston and Golden State, all at home, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of next week.

Despite being 15-19, the Pels are only four games behind the Mavericks for the eighth playoff spot in the West. They’re going to come out of this next stretch of games either still in contention or in all practicality out of it before the All-Star break.

“Every game is tough, but these teams are better than most,” Gordon said. “We’ve just go in there with the mindset of going in there as a team, figuring out good chemistry in practice and then bringing it to the games.

“It’s not like we don’t have a lot of talent, but we fighting to win games right now.”

Even Williams, who usually refuses to value one game over the other, stressed the importance of the upcoming stretch, especially now that 40 percent of the season is over.

“If we compete and play hard, we can play against anybody,” he said. “If you have that NBA symbol on your jersey, that means you can compete and give yourself a chance to win.

“I know who we’re playing against, but that’s immaterial to me. I’m going to put the guys on the floor who give us the best chance to win.”

At least Friday night, Williams won’t have to worry about the screaming guy behind him being the team’s owner.

He’ll be in Seattle.

With his other team. The one that’s in the playoffs.