The New Orleans Pelicans (33-22) went into the NBA All-Star break on a 7-1 run, with five of those victories coming on the road. The Pelicans return to action with three games in four days, thankfully all in the Smoothie King Center.

Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram can use that home cooking to dial into a new recipe going into the postseason. They need to. What the All-Stars have been serving up at the free throw line and from three-point range during the last five minutes is proving to be downright fatal.

Protect the basketball, hit open shots, and make free throws when getting to the line. Not the hardest of concepts when it comes to basketball, yet for some reason the Pelicans are having problems with all three. New Orleans is second-to-last in protecting the ball and 27th in three-point percentage in the last five minutes of close games.

They are dead last, by a wide three-percent margin, in free throw percentage during clutch moments. The Pelicans have let 16 double-digit leads turn into losses, in part because they are 23rd overall in free-throw percentage this season.

Poor free-throw form, turnovers plague Pelicans

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) shoots a free throw during the first half against the San Antonio Spurs at Frost Bank Center.
Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Williamson (6-12), Ingram (10-12), and CJ McCollum (4-8) have taken a combined 32 trips to the charity stripe this season in clutch moments. The trio have made just 20 in the clutch, mostly thanks to Ingram.

None of the Big Three in New Orleans are above 80% from the charity stripe this season. Williamson has missed 96 free throws through the NBA All-Star break more than Ingram (52) and McCollum (20) combined.

They are not only leaving free money on the floor, but the Big Three is also coughing up turnovers at the worst times. Ingram and Williamson have committed 15 turnovers in the last five minutes of close games. They have six assists each in those clutch moments.

McCollum has five assists to just one turnover but is usually working off the ball in tight games. The seasoned shooting guard has made two three-pointers from seven late-game opportunities.

Unfortunately, Ingram is 2-11 from three-point range in those same clutch moments. It could be a knock-on effect from a team-wide directive to bomb away from beyond the arc. Ingram has been uncomfortable taking more three-pointers all season. Williamson has not taken a three-pointer late down the stretch all season, and for good reason.

Point Zion works best by getting downhill and finding shooters. Only 12 free throws are worrisome, but some of the blame goes to the referees for not giving Williamson an honest whistle. That's another thing Williamson and third-year head coach Willie Green have to work on before the NBA Playoffs. There is too much variance with referee assignments to worry about those heated arguments to come now.

Free throws, open shots, and ball protection can be fine-tuned over the next few weeks. Williamson, Ingram, and McCollum cannot point at the officials if they are failing at the fundamentals. That's a look of frustration with bad body language. That attracts the wrong kind of attention when done under postseason, or elimination game, lights.

Green cannot expect to work with the same Big Three next season if the same simple issues continue to plague this squad. The front office would have to move forward with the available data, with or without the first-time 42-year-old coach.

The Pelicans have championship expectations. However, fatal flaws are just that and this team will not go far without fixing a couple of glaring issues. Too many self-inflicted wounds will kill what is otherwise shaping up to be a promising season.