SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- When asked about an injury or something medically related, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers will often quip that he's not a real doctor. When it comes to diagnosing basketball-related maladies, the San Antonio Spurs' Gregg Popovich might be suited for the stethoscope.
"If you don't know what you need to work on, after you play them, you'll know," New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said before his team's matchup with the Spurs at AT&T Center. "They have a way of exposing your weaknesses."
After a 98-79 loss, Gentry offered a simple conclusion:
"You turn the ball over against them, they make you pay."
The Spurs finished with 19 points off of 10 Pelicans turnovers. It was even worse in the first half, when the Spurs turned seven turnovers into 15 points.
"That's what they want. And they always capitalize," Anthony Davis said. "We had seven turnovers in the first half, and they scored on every turnover -- 15 points. We can't allow ourselves to do stuff like that."
Both Davis and Gentry seemed to be focusing on the immediate. But Solomon Hill, the team's biggest offseason acquisition, saw the Pelicans' struggles against the Spurs on Saturday and against the Warriors on Friday as an opportunity to define who they want to be moving forward. After their third straight defeat to open the 2016-17 season, Hill's impassioned voice could be heard through the walls outside of the Pelicans' locker room.
"I look at it like this is where we want to be," Hill said. "We want to be offensively gifted like San Antonio. We want to be a team that runs and pushes the pace like Golden State. But the one thing that San Antonio does, and both teams do, is they play defense. We just got to lock in and understand that we don't have LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili or Kevin Durant, Steph Curry.
"We have Anthony Davis and a bunch of hungry guys. Those little things [like] turnovers turn into 15 points for them. We did what we're supposed to do in the half court, but the little things are going to be the difference in a win and a loss."
Doing so has become particularly critical given their recent offensive issues. Gentry's Phoenix Suns helped usher in the 3-happy era in which the NBA finds itself, but the former "Seven Seconds or Less" assistant and head coach has yet to see his Pelicans knock down seven makes from behind the arc in a game. A 4-for-22 performance on Saturday -- in which power forward Dante Cunningham was the only player with more than one made 3-pointer -- brings the Pelicans to 19 percent (12-for-63) on the season.
The Pelicans finished 16th in offensive efficiency last season despite losing Davis and the bulk of their firepower to injury. They came into Saturday's game playing a Gentry pace (110.6 possessions per game, first in the NBA) but without the offensive execution to match (23rd in offensive efficiency).
"When they made it to the playoffs [in 2015], we had Eric Gordon, a guy with the Clippers who had 15 shots a game. We had Ryan Anderson, who's one of the [better] pick-and-pop 4s. You have Tyreke Evans, you had AD, you had Jrue Holiday. You had guys who were top-10 picks, respectively -- and scorers," Hill said. "We don't have that. So we have to do the little things. Nobody is going to turn into Kobe on this team. We all have to respect our roles and our identities. But we have to be hungry. Every night, we have to be hungry. S---'s not just going to happen for us. We've got to make it happen. And that needs to be our identity."
Gentry has maintained throughout the brick fest that the Pelicans are getting good looks off the double- and triple-teams Davis has drawn amid his dominant season-opening stretch. But outside of E'Twaun Moore, a career 36.8 percent shooter from deep, the Pelicans don't appear to have anyone with the track record for drawing defenders out and creating the necessary space for Davis to go to work. Though Gentry said Davis could have scored 30 points had he left him out there for 40 minutes or more for the third game in a row, the Pelicans All-Star ended up with his most modest outing of the season: 18 points (6-for-15), 5 rebounds and 3 blocks.
The expected returns of Quincy Pondexter (36.5 percent career 3-point shooter), Holiday (36.8) and maybe even Evans (career 28.8 from 3 but a career-high 38.8 in 25 games last season) can and will likely help their cause. Until then, the Pelicans will depend on the likes of Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway and Hill, all of whom have flashed shooting range in their careers -- especially Hield, a 46 percent 3-point shooter as a senior at Oklahoma -- but have yet to do find any consistency in a small sample with New Orleans.
"It is [getting tougher], because at some point, you’ve got to start knocking them down," Davis said about the Pelicans' 3-point woes. "When you're not shooting the ball well, you've got to find another way to win. It's not just one guy, it's a couple guys -- Buddy, Solomon, Langston. We've got to just find ways to have them make shots. I think once they do that, their confidence will get back and they'll start playing really well. But, until then, we've got to do it on the defensive end."
Despite it all, Davis said that, unlike like last season -- when the injury-riddled Pelicans lost their first six games and 11 of their first 12 -- he "likes where we are."
"It wasn't like last season when we're playing Orlando and get blown out," Davis said. "Golden State. ... But we can't allow ourselves to get into a hole like that."