Reinforcements are coming.
The question for the Pelicans is whether they’ll arrive in time.
Eventually, four injured rotation players — guards Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole, forward Quincy Pondexter and center Kendrick Perkins — will work their way back onto the court. But the Pelicans, who have sputtered out of the gate to a 1-9 start, could be too far out of playoff contention by then for it to matter.
And that notion is not lost on New Orleans.
“Obviously when our guys come back, we’ll be that much better. But right now we’re going in,” forward Dante Cunningham said. “We don’t have time to wait for the cavalry as they say. It’s right now or never.”
As the Pelicans prepare to host the Denver Nuggets — currently in eighth place in the Western Conference, the position required for the final playoff seed — Tuesday at the Smoothie King Center, there’s a growing sense of frustration to go along with the desperation.
“Everybody’s a little bit frustrated,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “We’re just frustrated – the coaches, the players and everybody – because we didn’t anticipate this.”
The Pelicans went 0-3 on last week’s road trip to Atlanta, Toronto and New York. They rank last in the NBA in points allowed (114.1) and defensive efficiency (108.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). They’re 29th of 30 teams in defensive field-goal percentage (47.4 percent) and points allowed in the paint (46.6 per game).
Still, Gentry called Monday’s practice “very positive.” The Pelicans focused less on their shortcomings, he said, and more on the things they’re capable of fixing to win games. Gentry said he’s seen signs that the Pels are “really close” to a turnaround.
Their issues, he said, require small tweaks and not major surgery.
There are possessions, Gentry said, where four Pelicans are in the right position defensively. Too often one player blows an assignment, and that leads to points. Even if every player makes two mistakes per game, Gentry noted, “It becomes 20 mistakes, (and) that’s an opportunity for basically 40 points.”
Too often, Gentry said, players are stepping outside of their assigned roles in an effort to turn around their team’s fortunes.
“I think that’s part of the frustration is that guys are making individual plays, and it’s selfish but it’s not a malicious kind of thing,” Gentry said. “They’re doing it because they’re trying to help our team win. What we try to convince them of is, we can’t do it that way. As much as you want to help us win, we have to do it within the confines of what we’re trying to do offensively and defensively.”
Forward Alonzo Gee said Monday you “can’t blame a guy” for taking matters into his own hands when he wants to win. But Gentry said players “got a better understanding” of playing within the team concept at Monday’s practice.
Whether that translates to games remains to be seen, but the Pelicans need to see it in a hurry.
Though there are 72 games left to play, New Orleans already is in a hole, and it’s important, Gentry said, not to fall much further out of a playoff spot even with so much time to make up ground.
Gentry said it’s “possible” that some of the injured Pelicans could be close to returning, but he didn’t elaborate. The Pelicans, who entered Monday’s games four games out of the final playoff spot, have to have to focus on the players they have, he said, and on putting together a run of consistent basketball.
“Other than Golden State, no one is really running off and leaving the pack right now,” Gentry said. “It’s tough for us. We never anticipated being where we are right now. But we’re there, and so the question becomes now how do we move ahead and get by this?”