Remember that look of agony on Anthony Davis’ when he reinjured his right shoulder the other night in Miami?
Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps isn’t sure, but he imagines his expression was about the same.
“It was probably pretty painful looking,” Demps said Monday before the Pelicans rallied for a 100-97 victory against Toronto in the Smoothie King Center. “I was hurting along with him.”
Chances are, DD’s feeling a lot better now.
Coming from behind without three of your top four scorers out will ease a lot of pains.
Still, Davis is out for up to two weeks; Ryan Anderson, AD’s backup at power forward is out three or four more with a knee injury; and point guard Jrue Holiday isn’t expected back for three weeks after missing the past 18 games with a stress reaction in his lower right leg.
For a team desperately trying to stay in contention for a playoff berth, that’s a potential triple whammy.
Among other things, that’s a combined 53.7 points-per-game missing from the lineup.
Monday, the Pelicans were able to overcome that lack of punch with Luke Babbitt’s season-high 18 points. How many times can you count on that happening?
No wonder that before the game, basketball-reference.com gave the Pelicans only a 10 percent chance to making the playoffs, projecting them to finish a rounded-off break-even 41-41, five games behind eighth-place Oklahoma City, with Phoenix in between them at 42-40.
Monday’s victory put the Pelicans two games behind Oklahoma City, which has moved into the No 8 spot with six straight victories despite missing reigning league MVP Kevin Durant after foot surgery with no timetable for his return.
Certainly not insurmountable, but the Thunder is gong to be hard to catch.
Whatever Demps thinks his team’s playoff odds are, he isn’t saying. He won’t even refute the 10 percent notion.
“We’ve still got an opportunity to make a playoff run,” he said. “But I’m not qualified to answer anything about somebody else’s numbers.”
And while Demps is quick to point out that although the Pelicans have suffered a seemingly inordinate number of injuries for the second straight season, every NBA team has to deal with them to some extent. He has not been happy about the team’s continuing inability to step up when others are out.
The losses to Utah and Indiana after Davis’ original injury and the one at Orlando were the Pelicans’ ninth, 10th and 11th losses to teams with losing records. In contrast, they’re 11-10 against the nine Western Conference teams ahead of them in the standings.
Monday’s though, was the second against Toronto, the No. 2 team in the East, with Davis and Holiday out.
“When this season is over, we’re going to look back on a number of games in which we wished we had played better,” he said. “You’re always disappointed whenever you lose, and we can’t worry about those games now. You’re always hoping that guys will take the opportunity to step up and help get us into the playoffs.”
While in the history of the NBA only three No. 8 seeds have beaten No. 1s in the opening round — and the Pelicans, healthy or not, would be unlikely to break that trend against likely No. 1 seed Golden State — Demps sees getting into the playoffs as an important step in the maturation of a young team whose oldest player is now Omer Asik, hardly a graybeard at 28.
“We’ve got a group we’re growing together to get better,” Demps said. “The key to our philosophy is to have a core built around Anthony Davis.
“That builds continuity.”
That core keeps getting a little larger, too.
Demps said he considers point guard Norris Cole, acquired in last week’s three-way trade with Miami and Phoenix, a part of that core. That indicates the Pelicans want to retain Cole, who will be a restricted free agent.
With 15 points Monday, Cole is shaping up as a very good get.
Pondexter and Cunningham, picked up via free agency and by trade, have core status, too.
That why Demps has resisted the temptation to deal away those core players, sticking instead with shuffling the bottom of the roster while adding pieces like Cole at bargain-basement prices.
Ex-LSU center Justin Hamilton, also acquired in last week’s trade, is being given a short time to earn a roster spot. Otherwise, Demps will be looking for a 10-day free agent to shore up things until Davis and Anderson return.
The Pelicans should be able to hang close in the duration.
Over the next 12 days, they play seven games, five of them at home and five of them against teams with losing records, starting with Brooklyn in the Smoothie King Center on Wednesday.
Given the Pelicans’ record in games they were supposed to win, nothing is a given.
Except the unexpected.