Pleasant surprise: Injured Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday to play against Phoenix _lowres

New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams talks to guard Jrue Holiday (11) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014. The Pelicans won 104-93. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

New Orleans Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday is excited to return to the court after missing 41 games with a right lower leg stress reaction.

Heading into Friday’s game against Phoenix, the Pelicans (42-36) were tied with Oklahoma City for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff berth with four games to play.

“It’s exciting; it’s been a while since I’ve been on the court,” Holiday said 45 minutes before the game started. “So I’m ready to get back out there and help out my team.”

Holiday had been out since Jan. 12. The Pelicans upgraded his status to questionable after their morning shootaround, and coach Monty Williams said 1½ hours before the game that Holiday would play.

“Jrue has worked his tail off to get to this point,” Williams said. “We’ve excited to have him back. He means so much to our team.”

Holiday practiced with the team Monday and participated in its shootaround the morning of Tuesday’s home game against Golden State. He said then that he still felt pain, that “there’s still something there.”

He said Friday: “It’s not a lot. If it was a lot, I wouldn’t play. But obviously, we have an eye on it.”

Williams, asked what he saw that indicated Holiday was ready to play, said, “It wasn’t so much what we saw; it was what we heard from him — that he wasn’t in the kind of pain he’d been in.”

Holiday said there was not a time when he made a certain movement and knew his leg would be OK. He said he has gained confidence as he has continued to work out that he can play without aggravating the injury.

“I think there have been times where it felt good and other days where it reacted differently, and from just kind of figured out a way to prepare for this moment.

“Obviously, I’ll be playing minutes here and there, just trying to get my wind back without really aggravating my leg.”

Holiday said the decision to return was reached after talking with his Los Angeles-based doctor and Pelicans trainers. Williams said he also spoke with the team’s trainers. He said Holiday, who averaged about 35 minutes, will be limited to about 15 per game, “but we have to take it game by game. If we don’t feel he’s in harm’s way, we may increase it, but he won’t approach his normal minutes.”

Holiday will take some of the minutes played by reserve guard Toney Douglas, Williams said. Douglas, primarily a point guard, has been averaging 16.3 minutes and has been valuable particularly as a defender, teaming with backup point guard Norris Cole.

In Holiday’s absence, Tyreke Evans has moved from small forward to point guard and thrived. Holiday averaged 15.3 points, 7.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 37 games. His biggest asset is often as a defender against opposing point guards.

Holiday said he wanted to return for the Pelicans’ road game against his hometown Los Angeles Lakers last week. But he visited with his doctor during the road trip and was told not to return.

Holiday’s brother, Justin, a 26-year-old guard with the Golden State Warriors, had advised his brother, 25, to “think of the big picture” and not return yet, saying “I understand he wants to be part of his team maybe making the playoffs and playing in the postseason.”

“I’ve been working out to where it’s been similar to that pressure on the court, and just how (the leg) reacted right after that and two days after that out has been the key,” Jrue Holiday said. “I just want to contribute any way I can to try to win all four of these games, which is obviously the priority.”