There were plenty of fans missing at the Smoothie King Center on Monday night, plenty of empty seats as the Pelicans lost 121-116 to the Chicago Bulls in their home finale.
But the makeshift Pelicans — who had eight players available Monday and 10 injured — drew loud cheers from the thousands of fans who did show for their effort in a losing cause.
And as their season winds down, they’re making fans of the guys on the New Orleans bench.
“Obviously this team hasn’t had as successful a year as (the fans) probably wanted or as we wanted, and to be able to come in night in and night out and support us is awesome,” forward Ryan Anderson said before the game. “It says a lot (for fans to show up), but at the same time, these games are pretty fun to watch, too. These guys are giving their all. We’re rooting for them on the sideline, too.”
It hasn’t been the season anyone expected in New Orleans. The Pelicans finished 21-20 at home and are 30-51 heading into Wednesday’s finale at the Minnesota Timberwolves. Their loss to the Bulls secured the No. 6 slot in the NBA Draft lottery.
On Monday, three of the Pelicans’ eight available players — James Ennis, Tim Frazier and Jordan Hamilton — signed with the team this season out of the NBA Development League. They combined for 64 points against the Bulls, including career highs for Ennis (29) and Frazier (20).
Still, there’s no substitute for a star.
After Frazier tied the score at 108 on a scoop shot with 3:06 to play, the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler scored the next seven points, including a deep 2-point jumper with 1:08 to play that put Chicago in front 115-108.
Butler scored 21 points and carried the Bulls to the win. But the Pelicans continue to win over their coach.
Injured stars Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon were among the players cheering from the sideline Monday, and Gentry wanted those established players to take some tips from the upstarts.
“The thing that we talked about after the game is that everybody in this locker room — every guy that’s sitting around that may be injured, every guy that’s in rehab right now and trying to get himself back healthy — the one thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to come back and compete at the same level that these guys did,” Gentry said. “And if we do, we’ll be fine.”
Guard Jrue Holiday had successful surgery Friday to repair an orbital wall fracture on his right eye, the Pelicans announced. Holiday will be out for six to eight weeks and is expected to make a full recovery in time for the 2016-17 season.
Holiday, who has missed the past eight games, is one of nine Pelicans sidelined for the season.
Anderson, who has missed the past 12 games with a sports hernia, also will not play again this season. A specialist in Philadelphia recommended he have surgery, Anderson said, but he is seeking another opinion from a specialist in St. Louis. Anderson, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, hopes to hear “in the next day or so,” he said, whether he’ll require surgery.
“I’d definitely rather not have surgery,” he said. “Obviously we have a lot of time before next season, so if there’s another option other than surgery, I want to know what that is. But I’m trying to be real conservative and do the best thing for my body and how to get better.”
Anthony Davis received the NBA Cares Community Assist Award for March. The award recognizes “an NBA player each month who best reflects the passion that the league and its players share for giving back to their communities.”
During the past two seasons, Davis’ “Bowling with the Brow” experience — donated to the Toast for the Coast live auction — has raised $30,000 for educational programming on coastal restoration. Davis has contributed $50,000 this season to send nearly 6,500 local children to Pelicans games.
Kaiser Permanente and the NBA will donate $10,000 on Davis’ behalf to the Anthony Davis Foundation.