Pelicans, Magic looking for first win of season _lowres

Associated Press photo by Ben Margot Golden State's Draymond Green, left, passes the ball away from New Orleans' Dante Cunningham last week.

Kendrick Perkins is out. Omer Asik was back, but maybe he’s not anymore. Tyreke Evans, Quincy Pondexter and Norris Cole still have yet to play a game.

And for the 0-3 New Orleans Pelicans, the challenge is to cope and not to mope.

“It does us no good to sit around and complain about it,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said of his team’s continuing string of injuries. “This is the last time I’ll ever use this phrase, and if I use it again I want somebody to punch me, but it is what it is, OK?”

Here’s the latest, as the winless Orlando Magic visit Smoothie King Center on Tuesday: Perkins is sidelined indefinitely with a right pectoral injury. Backup point guard Cole is “coming along fine,” Gentry said, as he recovers from a high ankle sprain, but the Pelicans still haven’t given a timetable for his return. Evans and Pondexter still are working back from knee surgeries.

And Asik, who played 10 minutes in last Saturday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors— his season debut after a preseason calf strain — hasn’t practiced since. He listed as questionable for Tuesday.

“We’ll just have to look and evaluate and be cautious because the one thing is that we’ve got to look long term in everything that we’re doing,” Gentry said. “We can’t try to have a quick fix and end up in a situation where now we’re in worst shape. We’re gonna do whatever’s best for long-term goals that we have.”

In the short term, though, the Pels could use a win.

It won’t be easy against the Magic, who aren’t the pushovers that their young roster and 0-3 record might suggest.

Orlando led the Wizards by eight in the fourth quarter and by five in the last two minutes of an 88-87 season-opening loss. The Magic blew an 18-point lead in a 139-136 double-overtime loss to the Thunder. And in Sunday’s 92-87 loss to the Bulls, Orlando trailed by 15 in the fourth before a 14-0 run gave the Magic a chance.

“They play extremely hard,” Gentry said. “Anybody that knows (Magic coach) Scott Skiles and knows his team, the one thing that you can hang your hat on is that they’re gonna be competitive and they’re gonna play hard as heck. Everything is a challenge to us right now.”

Outside of its shorthanded roster, New Orleans’ biggest challenge so far might be that it has played defending NBA champion Golden State twice, losing by a combined 30 points.

Orlando isn’t that sort of offensive juggernaut, but the Magic are 10th in the league in scoring at 103 points per game, largely on the strength of that double-overtime loss to Oklahoma City.

Regardless of the opponent, though, the Pelicans have strides to make defensively. That was the focus of practice on Monday, said forward Luke Babbitt, who said the Pels keyed in on defensive execution and concepts.

The concepts are coming along, Babbitt said. Putting them into action has been a challenge for New Orleans, which is giving up a league-high 119 points per game.

“A lot of it’s just execution, tiny little corrections,” Babitt said. “We did it the right way a lot (last Saturday), and then the times we didn’t, we got burned. That’s encouraging to know. It’s very correctable stuff. We have the pieces in place. The system is working. When we do it right, it works.”

That — and the promise of a roster that figures to add key pieces gradually — has kept the Pels from pressing the panic button despite their defensive struggles and 0-3 start. “We’re staying together. We’re worried about us,” forward Dante Cunningham said Monday. “We’re not worried about anything else on the outside. On the outside, everyone’s kind of panicking, but we’re solid as a rock right now.”