Return dates for injured Pelicans players still up in air _lowres

Associated Press file photo -- Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson dunks over Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) and guard Jeff Teague in the second half last Friday.

Tyreke Evans, Quincy Pondexter and Norris Cole all spoke to the media on Friday, their first public comments since missing regular-season games.

And all three sidelined Pelicans shared a common thread.

Despite claiming a dogged determination to get back on the floor, none shed any light on a potential date to return to the Pelicans’ tight rotation. The trio, decked out in suits instead of shorts, could’ve helped the Pelicans during Friday’s 121-115 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at the Smoothie King Center.

While the injuries are different — Pondexter is recovering from offseason knee cartilage surgery, Cole from a high ankle sprain and Evans arthroscopic knee surgery — each has been doing varying degrees on-court work.

More importantly, all three said they don’t want to return until they’re not at risk of re-injuring themselves. Coach Alvin Gentry also stressed caution is a point emphasis, despite the sluggish start to the season.

Evans, who was the Pelicans’ second-leading scorer last year, said he’s running on the treadmill and doing some spot shooting without feeling pain in the knee.

“I’ve started running so that’s a good sign,” Evans said. “I’m just trying to get back in the flow, and I know my body, and once I feel like I can stop on a dime or be me, then I’m going to try to be out there.”

Meanwhile, Pondexter has been able to perform one-on-one drills with coaches in post-practice work, driving to the basket and shooting. But he also said the initial projection of his November return isn’t guaranteed.

“I knew (it would take this long to recover),” Pondexter said. “But, being the competitor I am and being as stubborn as I am, I didn’t want to listen to how long it was going to be. I didn’t think about the end road. The doctors said it was going to be a really long time, but I am going to try to make it back as soon as I can because I love competing, and the game of basketball and I love New Orleans.”

Cole said this is the first high ankle sprain he’s ever suffered through, and that the road back to the court is a longer fight than he expected.

“I had to walk without crutches, then walk without a boot, then walk without a brace and then be able to do certain things normally,” Cole said. “I need to be able to things without thinking about it, or limping or hesitating with the same strength as before. I need to cut and land, so it’s a whole process and it doesn’t just come together at one time.”

Opening urgency

Since losing to Orlando on Tuesday night, Gentry emphasized the importance of the first quarter, underlining the word “urgency” three times on the team’s locker room whiteboard. On average, New Orleans trailed by 11 points and surrendered 35 in the opening quarter during its 0-4 start to the season.

It appears the message was well received. But only for a bit.

Despite two fouls by Anthony Davis, the Pelicans managed to hang on to a 28-26 lead at the end of the period, entering the second quarter with a lead for the first time this season. However, it was short-lived when Atlanta converted 11 of its first 15 field goal attempts in the second quarter as part of a dominating 32-19 advantage in the quarter.

“The first quarter, we played fine, but the second quarter was a letdown for sure,” forward Ryan Anderson said. “We just need to collectively learn how to play for all four and have an even performance where we can stay on track for the whole game. Having to make a furious comeback every time is just hard.”

The Pelicans won three of the game’s four quarters, but the lopsided second provided Atlanta more than enough room to earn the victory.

“We are playing to catch-up and not playing to win,” Gentry said. “We have to start faster and play with more urgency throughout the game.”

Perkins’ pecs

Reserve center Kendrick Perkins could miss three months with an injured pectoral muscle, he confirmed to The Advocate.

Perkins started three games but left the floor just three minutes into the Pelicans’ loss to the Magic on Tuesday. He originally feared he would be out for the remainder of the season, but now believes he should return by February.

“It’s a torn pec muscle,” Perkins said. “But they said if I rehab and have no setbacks, I’ll be pretty good.”

Brief Holiday

Jrue Holiday’s minutes restriction has been a much-discussed topic this season, mainly because it has fluctuated, as has Gentry’s strategy of when to use the minutes.

The 20-minute limit he opened the season with quickly ballooned to 25 and even jumped as high as 27 in the third game of season before getting pulled back a bit.

On Friday, he logged just five minutes in the first half before finishing at 23, playing typical starters time in the second half.

Holiday isn’t expected to play Saturday in Dallas since it’s the second game of a back-to-back. Gentry said in those situations, Holiday will more than likely play in the home half of the games on consecutive nights, when possible.

Lagniappe

Trainers were seen working on Anthony Davis’ lower back midway through the fourth quarter, putting wraps and ice on it while he briefly sat on the bench. … New Orleans utilized a super-small lineup of Ish Smith, Holiday, Eric Gordon, Anderson and Davis in the crunch time fourth quarter. … Atlanta outrebounded New Orleans 27-13 in the first half. … The Pelicans were called for a technical foul in the fourth quarter when they took the floor with six players