The lineup combinations aren’t the ones Alvin Gentry wants. The injury circumstances are far from perfect for the New Orleans Pelicans.
But in Friday night’s 93-90 preseason win against the Heat at Smoothie King Center, the Pels looked regular-season ready with stars Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday on the court, and that’s a start.
“That’s kind of like our core group,” Davis said after a 25-point, 13-rebound, five-block, five-assist performance. “We got guys who are threes playing four, twos playing four, threes playing five, (players out of position) everywhere. But we got guys hurt, so we’re gonna have to do that, and we’re just trying to figure it out. When we find a good combination we stay with it and we try to get a lot going.”
The Pelicans got it going in the second half on Friday and played their best extended stretch of defense in the third quarter.
They outscoring the Miami 18-9 in the third and held the Heat to 2-for-12 shooting. The Pels shot just 7 for 20 in the quarter but got six points from Davis and five from Gordon, who finished with 22 in the game.
That success was hard to sustain without Davis, Gordon and point guard Jrue Holiday on the court. When Davis left the game at the 2:15 mark of the quarter, the Pelicans led 66-61. When he returned with 7:30 to play in the fourth, they trailed 76-71.
But with Davis, Gordon and Holiday playing down the stretch — the latter, playing with what had been a 15-minutes-per-game, logged a preseason-high 18 minutes — the Pelicans rallied to take the lead and hold on for a win.
Davis’ 3-pointer with 3:10 to play in the game gave New Orleans the lead for good.
The Pelicans won despite shooting 33.3 percent from the floor, in part because of a 13-for-28 night from 3-point range, but also thanks to a defensive effort that held the Heat to 41.7 percent and limited them to four fast-break points, an emphasis this week in practice. Gerald Green had 24 points on 10 for 15 shooting, but the Heat starters shot a combined 14 for 39.
New Orleans won with some makeshift lineups, giving extended minutes to rookie Bryce Dejean-Jones, who scored 13 points in 25 minutes, and Bo McCalebb, who saw 12 minutes.
Six projected rotation players — guards Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole, centers Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca and forwards Quincy Pondexter and Luke Babbitt — missed Friday’s game due to injury.
Babbitt is the most likely to return for Tuesday’s season opener at Golden State, but Evans at least still has a long absence ahead, a projected six to eight weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery this week. But with Davis, Gordon and Holiday, the Pelicans at least have a trio to build around while they play shorthanded.
“It is a good starting point,” Gentry said. “All those guys ended up, in the plus-minus department, plus. That’s a positive in itself.”
But even those three “have not played together very much at all, not even in practice,” Gentry said. Their timing needs work, and as it improves the offense will get better, he said. The defense will get better “week in and week out,” he said, and the Pelicans gradually will get better.
For now, they have three guys who look pretty good.
“We definitely got to be consistent throughout the whole season and play a bigger role than normal,” Gordon said of himself, Davis and Holiday. “We’re up for that challenge, but it’s still a team effort. We got a lot of tough games coming up, so we got to really dig in and focus on these upcoming games.”