The New Orleans Pelicans aren’t tanking. It just looked that way.
But, the Pelicans came by their blowout loss honestly.
On Friday night, they played without Jrue Holiday for the first time all season, and it revealed just how outmanned New Orleans could be for the next few games.
The New Orleans Pelicans will have to learn to play without their leader.
The Toronto Raptors scored a jaw-dropping 53 points on fast breaks, en route to a 127-104 clobbering of the Pelicans inside the Smoothie King Center. It was the type of night they’ve largely avoided in recent weeks, despite the boundless turmoil created by Anthony Davis’ trade request and the reality of being removed from playoff contention.
That combination alone would have most teams racking up lopsided losses like the one experienced Friday. But with a notable exception or two, it didn’t happen previously in New Orleans.
However, avoiding those types of nights could be much more difficult going forward as they wait for health evaluations on Holiday and E’Twaun Moore, forced to piece together a rotation around them in the meantime.
“They just outran us,” coach Alvin Gentry said Friday. “You get 53 points in transition, you’re not going to lose the basketball game. I don’t care who you’re playing. We have to do a little bit better job — we have to do a lot better job — of getting back. I thought when we got back and got them set, we did a pretty good job in our halfcourt defense.
“When you give up 53 in transition, and they’re 21-for-30, so that means most of them are wide open shots or laying it in the basket, so that was our big problem tonight.”
This isn’t what tanking looks like.
While Holiday alone wouldn’t have stopped the Raptors’ fast-break barrage, it’s safe to say he could’ve at least help stem some of the leaks. He’s been the Pelicans’ steadying presence over the past few months and kept the team afloat even with so much negativity swirling around.
Close, competitive games were the Pelicans’ hallmark in the wake of Davis’ trade request. It presented the best possible evaluation tool for the team’s front office, getting to watch young players and pending free agents play crunch time minutes, even if they ended in a defeat.
And most of it can be credited to Holiday, whose reliable effort helped provide a driving presence on the court and in the locker room. However, an MRI revealed Holiday suffered an abdominal strain last week and won’t be re-evaluated for another week or so.
The Pelicans have just 14 games remaining, including Sunday’s 5 p.m. road tipoff against the Atlanta Hawks, and it’s uncertain when Holiday and Moore can be expected back.
“Jrue is going to probably be out seven to 10 days and then they’ll re-evaluate him — just a lower abdominal strain,” Gentry said before Friday’s game. “E’Twaun just got hit on the same bruise that he had. He got hit in the Utah game the other night, played in the game and tried to push through, but MRI today showed he’s got a bruised bone right there, so he’ll be out seven to 10 days and then we’ll reevaluate that situation.”
With so much re-evaluation yet to be conducted, the Pelicans are scratching toward the end of the bench just to build a rotation. With Davis still on a 20-minute restriction, it leaves Julius Randle as the only one of the Pelicans’ top five scorers who will be available for a full minutes load during the upcoming stretch.
The New Orleans Pelicans are focused on two primary purposes over the final 19 games of this circus of a season: competing and developing.
So, staying competitive and getting those valuable crunch time minutes for evaluation could be hard to come by.
But, there will at least be a lot of minutes to come by for the Pelicans’ handful of young players like rookie Frank Jackson, who scored 20 points in 36 minutes as a starter Friday.
“We’ll try to stick some guys in there and give them an opportunity to see how they play,” Gentry said. “Try to put them in situations where we want to look at them: maybe as a ball handler, maybe as an off-guard coming off screens or something like that. We’re going to try to give those guys legitimate minutes to see how they perform.”