After clawing its way back into the game at halftime, any momentum built by New Orleans was quickly surrendered during the start of the third quarter.
The Magic scored eight of the first 10 points in the third quarter, transforming a four point half time advantage into a double digit lead in just 135 seconds.
Only once choice was available for Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, as he decided to bench his entire starting unit in search of a spark.
“The first group wasn’t ready to play and if you’re not going to play, we have to have other guys in the game,” Gentry said. “We just have to decide what we’re going to be as a team. Are we going to be a team that gives in or are we going to be a team that competes like crazy and have teams beat us, not have us beat ourselves. That’s really where we are.”
New Orleans never seriously threatened again for the rest of the night, falling 104-89 to the Magic, dropping its record on the road to 3-15 on the year.
Perhaps for the first time all year, the Pelicans are truly healthy. The minutes restriction placed on Jrue Holiday since the start of the season has been lifted, Tyreke Evans has been back in the lineup for a full month and Quincy Pondexter, the final player remaining on the injury report, is practicing with the team.
Only establishing a true identity has proven to be elusive for the team. Over the past six games, New Orleans has posted a 3-3 record while playing like two completely different teams.
In their three wins, the Pelicans have averaged 118.3 points per game, including a season-high 130 point effort in Denver.
During its three losses, New Orleans has posted just 88.3 points per game, including an overtime session against the Heat on Christmas Day.
The dual identities of the team has generated frustration among both the players and coaching staff.
“We’re just not consistent, we just don’t do it day in and day out. When things don’t go right, it takes a toll on our whole team,” guard Eric Gordon said. “It’s a choice to do it, a mentality to do the right thing and help this team. We’ve had games, we played against Houston and everything went well that game. Tonight was a major dump.”
All-Star forward Anthony Davis was the lone bright spot for the team.
Davis managed to pull the Pelicans back into the game after surrendering the first nine points of the night to Orlando.
The 22-year-old forward scored 10 of the first 19 points on the night for the Pelicans and his jumper with just over two minutes remaining in the first half brought the team back within one.
From there, New Orleans ran out of answers.
“At the beginning of the third quarter, they kind of took off,” Davis said. “We just don’t play hard all of the time and that starts with the first unit, coming out setting the pace and setting the tone for the rest of the game. We have to come in with more energy, especially after half time.”
Magic center Nikola Vucevic torched the team in the post, pouring in a season-high 28 points on 14-of-21 shooting from the field to go along with eight rebounds and seven assists.
Orlando even fed the ball to Vucevic in the post on three consecutive possessions, resulting in a pair of a layups and a converted jumper from 20 feet out.
Compounding the problems even further for the Pelicans, Davis missed the end of the third quarter and the early portion of the fourth quarter after taking a knee to the groin while contesting a dunk attempt from Victor Oladipo.
The return of Davis to the floor did little to influence the final score, as the team dealt with continual miscommunications. New Orleans was even whistled for a back court violation after Davis fired a pass to Gordon, only he wasn’t looking, and the ball ricocheted off his head to the other side of the court.
The loss dropped the Pelicans to 10-21 on the year, the second worst record in the Western Conference.
With just one more game remaining in 2015 — a home contest agains the Clippers — Davis is attempting to find a way to spark a turnaround for the organization.
“It starts with me,” Davis said. “We just need to want to play hard, play hard for yourself. You have to look in the mirror and ask yourself if you play hard. There’s just a frustration with us not playing hard, including myself. We just have to find our way and put stuff together. We have to find a way to come out with wins.”