The Pelicans are on the mend but aren’t all the way back yet.
Omer Asik (right calf strain) and Luke Babbitt (left hamstring strain) returned to the floor during New Orleans’ 134-120 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night at the Smoothie King Center. Both entered in the first quarter, helping provide much-needed depth to the rotation.
“Obviously this is the first time they’ve played in a while, so we’re not going to be stupid about it and try to play them for 30 minutes,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “You’re talking about a guy (Asik) that started most of last year, and Luke obviously started some games last year, too. It’s just a situation where we have to get healthy enough that we can be consistent about where we are playing guys and getting guys back into their true positions.”
Coupled with an extension to point guard Jrue Holiday’s minutes restriction (expected to be limited to 20, he logged 27 on Saturday, scoring 22 points), the Pelicans’ rash of preseason injuries is starting to fade.
Gentry said Holiday’s restriction was pushed to 25 minutes before the game, but he went 27 just due to on-court circumstances. Holiday said he played without pain but wasn’t certain the 25-minute cap would be permanent.
“We are going to find out,” Holiday said. “Maybe it was a test. Maybe it was a trial run. We’ll see what happens.”
But the Pelicans are still missing a pair of ball-handling guards in Norris Cole (ankle) and Tyreke Evans (knee), who could likely miss all of November. Starting small forward Quincy Pondexter has been able to perform basketball activities in practice but still hasn’t been fully cleared since undergoing a May procedure to repair cartilage in his knee.
But Saturday was a start.
Asik, who signed a lucrative five-year contract in the offseason, provides a significant boost on the defensive glass, where the Pelicans struggled badly in their 111-95 season-opening loss at Oracle Arena.
“He’s been one of the top five rebounders for the past five years,” Gentry said. “So that does something as far as improving our defense. He’s a very smart defensive player. We just have to look long term and it’s not an excuse; it’s just what we have to do.”
Asik’s return was particularly important considering starter Kendrick Perkins strained his pectoral muscle three minutes into the game and was unable to return.
New Orleans mostly opted to go small, eschewing the use of a center for most of the night with the trio of big men combining for just 19 minutes.
After three quarters, Golden State’s effective field goal percentage — a stat that weighs 3-pointers more than regular field goals — was 69 percent.
For perspective, the Warriors shot one of the highest percentages in league history last year at 54 percent. That’s the product of making 14-of-24 3-point attempts, led by Stephen Curry’s 43-point outburst through three quarters before finishing with 53 — a point shy of his career high and the second-most points ever scored against New Orleans.
“As incredible as he is, it’s just never the same,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “It’s hard to really explain it because it’s always something different. It’s just amazing.”
No matter what the Pelicans did on the perimeter, Golden State found wide-open shooters stretched across the arc and scored with fluidity and ease. But nearly all of the Warriors credited Curry for the explosive offensive performance.
“They made a run and they came back and he completely took the game over,” Green said. “We were stagnant and he just took the game over.”
A sold-out Smoothie King Center wasn’t quite filled to capacity due to a combination of tornado warnings in the area and Halloween obligations, but it was certainly energized.
With white T-shirts on every seat, New Orleans showed up in big numbers and remained energized through most of the game.
It’s a feeling Warriors players said was going to be a familiar one, as the defending champions enter road environments.
“We definitely feel like a team that no one wants to get embarrassed by,” NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala said. “So everybody has a little extra energy and some spark in them. We realize that’s coming though.”
Pelicans star Anthony Davis greeted Pelicans fans before the game to thank them for their support and encourage them to fill the building for the rest of the year. ... Curry outscored the Pelicans 28-26 in the third quarter. ... New Orleans dropped to 0-3 for the first time since 2004-05, when that team started 0-8 en route to 18-64.