DENVER — It’s unclear if the New Orleans Pelicans (6-4) will once again be without starting center Omer Asik Friday night, as he’s listed as “questionable” against the Denver Nuggets (4-7). Asik missed the past two games with a lower back injury.
Asik’s stellar man-to-man defense, particularly in the post, is a perfect complement to Anthony Davis’ shot-blocking ability. With Asik out, the Pelicans have had to rely more on Ryan Anderson and Alexis Ajinca to take on the bigger post players.
“(Asik) usually guards the bigger guys,” Davis said. “So, me, Ryan and Alexis all have to make sure we get help from our other players.”
So far, the results have been a mixed bag. In the two games without Asik, the Pelicans are surrendering 105.8 points per 100 possessions, up two points from their regular season average, per NBA.com. However, Anderson’s proved he’s more than capable of handling bigger opponents in the post, as he battled DeMarcus Cousins admirably in the Pelicans’ 106-100 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
“The way he played post defense against Cousins in our last game says a lot about his ability to defend and give us some toughness,” Monty Williams said.
If Asik doesn’t play tonight, Anderson, Davis and Ajinca still get a bit of a reprieve from the likes of Cousins or LaMarcus Aldridge. None of the Nuggets’ frontcourt players — save for Jusuf Nurkic, who has fallen out of the rotation lately — presents a size problem like the Pelicans have faced in their past two games against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Kings. Timofey Mozgov isn’t much of an offensive threat, especially with his back to the basket, and while Kenneth Faried, with his athleticism and non-stop motor, will still be a tough matchup, he’s not a traditional post player.
Perhaps more important than interior defense for tonight is transition defense and preventing the Nuggets from playing at a fast pace.
“(The Nuggets) are going to run no matter what,” Williams said. “You want to make sure sure you keep as much as you can in front of you.”
Of course, this can all change in an instant. Often, whether a player plays comes down to how he’s feeling a few hours before the game. If Asik feels his back is good enough to play, and Williams agrees, then the Pelicans could take the floor tonight with a fully healthy roster.