Pelicans close out homestand against Knicks

NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Pelicans have a troubling habit of taking a game off defensively just when they seem to be making strides as a complete team.

When the 18-17 Pelicans host the 17-18 New York Knicks on Saturday night in the final game of a three-game homestand, they will be looking to reassert themselves on defense — the thing that carried them to three consecutive victories until the floodgates opened Friday night in a 128-120 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

The Pelicans allowed the Mavericks to score a season-high 128 points, including 77 in the first half, on .554 shooting, and Dallas also set a franchise record with 22 made 3-pointers.

“They were shooting 70 percent in the first half from behind the arc,” said Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins, whose 32-point, 20-rebound performance was wasted. “That’s all the confidence they needed. I’m (upset) about it. Everybody in the locker room is (upset) about it. On to the next.”

Up “next” are the Knicks, who after losing 119-107 at San Antonio on Thursday have lost four straight and are having trouble utilizing the 3-point shot as part of their offensive arsenal.

The Knicks rank last in the NBA in both 3-point attempts (21.6 per game) and made 3-pointers (7.8). Coach Jeff Hornacek says he is trying to ramp up the Knicks’ 3-point shooting. They have averaged just 18 3-point attempts in the last five games.

“Of course I want more,” Hornacek said. “We’re not getting many. Some of them we’re passing up. We’re not getting the penetration sometimes to kick it out. On the break, they got to be able to let them fly.”

The Knicks’ perimeter shooting has been hampered by the stress injury to guard Tim Hardaway Jr., who has missed the last 14 games.

“Him going down was definitely detrimental to the team,” Knicks forward Michael Beasley said.

The Knicks also are working through a shooting slump by 7-foot-3 center Kristaps Porzingis, who believes he is not getting the benefit of the doubt from the referees for what he says are defenders touching him on the arm or elbow during his jump-shooting motion.

After returning from a knee injury, Porzingis is shooting just 34 percent (33-for-97) over the last five games.

“It makes me super mad, those little touches on the arm, on the elbow,” Porzingis said. “I know they’re smal,l but they affect my shot so much and I’m confused,” he said. “I’m thinking, ‘Should I change my game?’ Because I shoot those shots so many times over guys and it makes me mad I’m not able to get those calls.

“I try to tell them about it before the games. But I think the refs, they have their own team and they talk about those kind of things so they know what’s going on. They know those are the type of things they have to look at. Maybe it’s too hard to see, I don’t know. Maybe I’m too high up, I’m too long.”

One player trending upward for the Knicks is rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina, who had 11 assists and one turnover against the Spurs.

The Pelicans swept the Knicks last season, winning by an average of 13.0 points per game. Davis led the Pelicans in those games by averaging 31.5 points on .575 shooting and 18.0 rebounds. Porzingis averaged 15.0 points and 8.0 rebounds against the Pelicans.