The New Orleans Pelicans depth is about to be tested.
And based on recent history, that’s could be a foreboding sign.
Not only are the Pelicans missing Elfrid Payton (broken finger) until the end of the month, he’ll be joined on the bench by two large teammates.
Power forwards Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle are each battling a sprained ankle and will sit out Wednesday’s 7 p.m. tipoff against the Milwaukee Bucks in Fiserv Forum.
Randle was initially injured late in Sunday’s loss to the Miami Heat, forcing him to limp off the floor and miss Tuesday’s practice. But the severity of the injury is still unknown.
“He’s going to be out (Wednesday) and from there we will see,” Gentry said. “We’ll just have to see after that what’s going on and how he’s recovering.”
And Mirotic has missed the last two games, still battling a tender ankle from an initial sprain on Nov. 17, prompting the Pelicans to sideline him until he’s deemed to be full strength.
“He’s getting better but he won’t play either,” Gentry said. “And Elfrid won’t play either.”
So, who exactly will suit up as the Pelicans embark on a difficult four-game road trip? Starting on Wednesday, New Orleans faces matchups against four teams (Bucks, Lakers, Kings, Mavericks) who are above .500 and currently in the playoff picture.
“It’s a challenge with them, so obviously it’s going to be a challenge without them,” Gentry said of missing both Mirotic and Randle simultaneously for the first time this season. “You just have to play games. That’s why they play the game. We played Boston without three of their starters and four of their top six guys (which the Celtics won 113-100) and that’s why you have guys on the roster and it’s why you try to get as deep as you possibly can.”
But, the Pelicans bench hasn’t instilled much confidence.
New Orleans ranks No. 29 in bench scoring this season. Its reserves are averaging a paltry 29.6 points per game.
And it’s gotten worse recently.
The Pelicans’ bench has been outscored in five consecutive games, with its production dipping to a league-worst 19.2 points per game during the span. More importantly, they’ve allowed opposing reserves to rack up 45.8 points per game, a jarring difference-maker in team’s inability to generate consecutive wins.
“We just have to stick together,” Solomon Hill said on Sunday. “This group has the ability. We just have to trust each other and know we can get keep better and turn that corner we keep talking about. Injuries are part of the game and we know that, but they do change what we do and they change some of our roles, but that’s all part of it.
“The games keep coming and we just have to play through it. We’ll get it figured out.”
With so few big men available, Gentry said he’ll likely turn to Jahlil Okafor at some point during the upcoming road trip. While Gentry praised Okafor’s work ethic this season, the former No. 3 overall pick has played just 16 combined minutes over the Pelicans’ past 22 games, languishing at the end of the bench.
But, with a pair of power forwards sidelined and rebounding help hard to find, it appears the former All-Rookie team center will get another opportunity to make his mark.
Because right now for New Orleans, it’s all hands on deck, particularly in the frontcourt.
“It’s a tough trip,” Gentry said. “It would’ve been a tough trip anyway. So we just have to be next man up. Obviously our bench is going to have to help and we are going to have to play good basketball.”
Pelicans at Bucks
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee
RADIO: N.O.: WRNO-FM, 99.5; BR: WRQQ-FM, 103.3; Lafayette: KROF-AM, 960