NEW ORLEANS — Last season, the Nets endured a soul-shattering 1-27 stretch in which their only victory was a remarkable win in New Orleans.
So, when they arrived in the Crescent City in the midst of a 1-6 span and then cut a 33-point third-quarter deficit to 14 early in the fourth quarter after a 19-0 run, it was fair to wonder if they had another miracle in them.
But reality hit hard as soon as Pelicans big men Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins returned to the game after coach Alvin Gentry had cleared his bench earlier. Davis scored six points in a 15-3 run as the Pelicans converted on seven straight possessions on their way to a 128-113 victory over the Nets Wednesday night at Smoothie King Center.
The loss came on the second game of a back-to-back set, but it bore no resemblance to the competitive game the Nets played one night earlier in San Antonio. Summing it up, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said, “It’s just 128 points. You could end the story right there.
“It’s disappointing. Against a good San Antonio team, I thought we really got after it defensively. Tonight, we did not have the defensive mentality, the defensive discipline to get stops. They made a lot of threes [17 of 33]. They got both. They got us in the paint [outscoring the Nets 48-30], and they really hurt us with the three-pointer.”
Late in the third quarter, the Nets trailed 91-58 after a three-pointer by Cousins had Gentry calling for the scrubs. But Caris LeVert had eight of his 22 points and Nik Stauskas added six of his 21 points (including 7-of-10 shooting from three-point range) in the Nets’ 19-0 run. It saved the Nets (12-22) some embarrassment, but their slump extended to 1-7.
“It would have been a little deflating being down  points going to the fourth quarter,” Stauskas said. “But being down 16 heading into the fourth gave us a little hope, maybe a little light at the end of the tunnel, something to fight for. But obviously, when their starters came back out, they kind of punched us in the mouth again.”
The Nets also got strong games from Quincy Acy (18 points) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (15), but their defense was nonexistent. Davis totaled 33 points and 11 rebounds and Cousins had 27 points and 14 rebounds for the Pelicans (18-16) and Rajon Rondo had an incredible 25 assists on all the easy buckets compared to 26 assists for the entire Nets team. Jrue Holiday added 23 points, and E’Twaun Moore had 20 points.
In the fourth quarter, the only starter to play was Hollis-Jefferson, while Spencer Dinwiddie, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll and Tyler Zeller were left sitting. “I just felt like that second group was giving us the best chance,” Atkinson said. “I didn’t feel it from our first group. I felt like the second group was playing with energy and sharing the ball and competing. They still couldn’t get the stops we needed, but I said, ‘We’re going to stick with them.’ They earned that right.”
Crabbe and Dinwiddie have been go-to guys, but they shot a combined 2-for-10 and were a combined minus-45. Taking responsibility for the defensive letdown, Crabbe said, “It starts with the starting five. Our energy wasn’t what it needed to be to start the game. We’ve got to figure it out.”
Atkinson noted this only was the Nets’ second truly bad loss of the year, including a 33-point defeat at Toronto where they trailed by 40. But he once again said he must evaluate the starting lineup. “We’ve got to look at that first group,” Atkinson said. “Do we have to inject more energy? It’s something to look at.”