The New Orleans Pelicans will have to learn to play without their leader.
Jrue Holiday is expected to miss at least the next seven to 10 days due to a lower abdominal strain, according to the team. An MRI revealed the issue following Wednesday’s 114-104 loss to the Utah Jazz, in which he played 32 minutes.
The New Orleans Pelicans couldn’t keep it up.
Holiday is expected to be reevaluated next week, which could alter the timeline, depending on how the healing process goes.
It’s a major blow to a Pelicans team which placed Holiday front-and-center ever since Anthony Davis requested a trade in mid-January. And Holiday responded accordingly, carrying the label of team captain and keeping the team energized despite a litany of adverse circumstances.
Now, they’ll have to learn to play without him.
Friday’s 7 p.m. tipoff against the Toronto Raptors will be the first game Holiday misses this season and just the second in the past two years. His durability and performance have been among the Pelicans’ brightest spots in a sour season.
Not only is Holiday averaging a career-best 21.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.6 steals, he’s been a reliable presence on the floor and played with a widely-praised effort during his nearly 36 minutes per night. It’s something teammate Julius Randle said he’s never experienced before.
“No, not a guy that plays that hard every night and competes like that,” Randle said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s pretty unbelievable.”
This isn’t what tanking looks like.
While Holiday’s effort hasn’t been questioned since arriving in New Orleans in 2013, his durability certainly was. In his first four years after being acquired via a draft day trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, Holiday played in just 206 of 328 possible games, dealing with a variety of issues including a lingering leg injury, a broken orbital bone and the care of his pregnant, cancer-stricken wife.
Holiday mostly put those questions to rest over the next two years.
Ever since signing a five-year, $126 million contract extension in 2017, he’s not only ratcheted up his statistical output, and got honored with first-team All-Defensive status last year, he missed just a single game (due to illness), including the 2018 playoffs.
Now, that streak will come to a close, as Holiday recovers from the abdominal strain while the march to the 15 games of the season carries out.
How the Pelicans respond in his absence will be a critical piece of evaluation for interim general manager Danny Ferry and coach Alvin Gentry. Over the past few weeks, the Pelicans have coalesced around Holiday, deferring to him as not only the No. 1 option on offense, but also the rallying point of the team’s defensive presence.
“Jrue is a freak athlete,” rookie guard Frank Jackson said, after Holiday’s steal sealed a road win over the Denver Nuggets last week. “To me, he’s the best guard in the league. He makes plays like that every day. That was a huge play.”
When Alvin Gentry last talked to the media before the All-Star break, he only wanted to talk to about the guys who played.
And Holiday has been praised for his leadership, during a particularly trying and franchise-altering season.
Although the Pelicans will have to learn to play for a while without him, it’s unlikely he’ll be left too far behind.
“There’s nothing you can say about Jrue that would be too much,” Pelicans’ forward Solomon Hill said in February. “He does so much. He plays both ends of the court. He plays hard. He guards the best player on the other team every night, on every possession, and comes on the other ends and scores 20-plus and puts up six or more assists.
“Jrue has been awesome and I think he’s finally starting to get some of the attention he’s deserved for a long time, because he’s been one of the most underrated players in this league for a while. He’s just been great. He’s a great player and a great teammate.”
The New Orleans Pelicans are focused on two primary purposes over the final 19 games of this circus of a season: competing and developing.