It’s been a bad week to be 7-feet.
For the second time in four days, the New Orleans Pelicans announced a prolonged injury to one of its centers. This time, it was starter Omer Asik, whose strained right calf is expected to keep him off of the floor for three weeks.
If the timetable holds, Asik will return for the Pelicans’ regular season opener at Golden State on Oct. 27, but an exact date for recovery is still unknown.
“It was kind of a freak thing with Omer,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “He didn’t get hit or anything. It’s just one of those freak things that happen.”
On Monday, Asik’s backup, Alexis Ajinca, suffered a similar injury was declared out for four-to-six weeks due to a strained right hamstring. He’ll likely miss the first few weeks of the regular season.
The confluence of events forces Gentry to re-think some of his lineups and rotations, prompting the Pelicans to go smaller for at least the remainder of the preseason, starting at 6 p.m. tonight against the Atlanta Hawks in Jacksonville, Fla.
“I see us doing a lot of things, and really mixing it up and seeing what clicks,” Gentry said. “That’s not anything new. We did that last year at Golden State a lot, and our whole philosophy is that if they say we are undersized or whatever, they always have to guard you on the other end the court.
“That will be our philosophy and we’ll try to find a combination of guys that can click and we’ll see if we can get it to the point of where we’ll win games.”
While Gentry didn’t give specifics, the shortage of big men mean power forward Anthony Davis is likely to spent significant minutes at center, allowing the Pelicans to load up on guards and wings surrounding him. With so many shooters and playmakers on the floor, it could boost the Pelicans’ offense to lethal levels while sacrificing some defensive and rebounding ability.
“We’ll play some really weird lineups,” Gentry said. “We want to see how some of the guys react to being in a different position or being asked to do different things.”
It’s nothing unique in New Orleans. For years, the Pelicans have battled a swath of health problems at nearly every position and this training camp is no different.
Asik and Ajinca join small forward Quincy Pondexter (recovering from offseason knee surgery) on the sidelines and point guard Jrue Holiday is on a strict minutes restriction until he fully overcomes a stress reaction in his leg that forced him to miss 90 games over the past two years.
It’s a point of aggravation for Ajinca, whom Gentry spotlighted as one of team’s best performers in West Virginia, prior to hurting his hamstring while backpedaling on defense during last Saturday’s 110-105 win over the Indiana Pacers.
“It’s definitely an annoying situation,” Ajinca said. “It’s frustrating since I just got back after a painful Achillies injury and I just got back for a week and now I’m back in the training room again. It’s very frustrating but I’m going to keep pushing and keep working. Hopefully I’ll be back before four weeks.”
In the meantime, the Pelicans will use the opportunity to re-tool the rotations and try to find some mismatches and lineup combinations that perhaps wouldn’t have gotten on the court together. As the next six preseason games unfold, the added tinkering could pay dividends.
But, Gentry stopped short of saying there’s any silver lining to the situation, particularly because his time with the full roster has been so limited already.
“We would much prefer to have those guys here,” Gentry said. “But they’re not here, so we have to try to figure out a way to hold down the fort until they get back. That may be playing what some people perceive as strange lineups.”