Anthony Davis is in the midst of his healthiest NBA season, yet his health is the New Orleans Pelicans’ most prominent topic.
The All-Star starter has missed at least some part of seven of the Pelicans’ past eight games because of injury problems, as nagging minor injuries are derailing his goal of a fully healthy campaign.
The latest came in Wednesday’s 114-105 loss to Oklahoma City, when Davis re-aggravated a contusion in his right thigh midway through the second quarter. More alarmingly, the play appeared to be an innocent bump into the backside of Thunder center Domantas Sabonis on a rebounding opportunity.
Yet, Davis came up gingerly, clutched the back of his leg and hobbled down the floor. The Pelicans called for a timeout and Davis made his increasingly routine walk past the bench and into the locker room.
“It’s not good,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “It’s tough. He wants to be out there, and he’s trying to be out there. It would be easy just to sit out, but I think he’s doing everything he can to be out there. If he’s hurt, then he’s hurt. But the fact that he starts the game and tries to see if he can play through it is all you can ask any player to do.”
Davis is officially listed as questionable for Friday’s 7 p.m. tipoff against the San Antonio Spurs in the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans didn’t practice Thursday, so it’s unknown how much Davis has progressed.
Regardless of whether he starts the game, the larger is question is whether he can complete it. Davis has cracked the 30-minute barrier just once since Jan. 8, a far cry from his 37.3-minute average in the preceding 36 games. The spate of injuries coincides with his full-time move to center, forcing him to defend bigger bodies in the paint.
But Gentry denied the premise of additional minutes in the middle causing an increased risk, because many of them are mitigated by the appearance of Terrence Jones off of the bench. It’s also not abnormal in Davis’ career.
The fifth-year big man has already missed games because of 24 different ailments in his career. This season, he’s missed four total games (three because of injury), but had to exit nine different games because of a medical issue (returning in five of them).
“Of course it’s frustrating for him,” guard E’Twaun Moore said. “And when he goes out, of course, we are missing a big part of what we do. I just hope he can get healthy.”
In the meantime, New Orleans has appeared to adjust to playing without him. Not only did the Pelicans knock off the defending-champion Cleveland Cavaliers with Davis marooned to the bench, they trimmed a 20-point deficit to 105-100 in the final five minutes before succumbing late against the Thunder.
Point guard Jrue Holiday said it’s natural to get more aggressive in Davis’ absence.
“We feel like, with Anthony out, that (the) bulk of scoring isn’t there or it might go missing,” Holiday said. “It has to come from somewhere.”
And it comes in many forms.
Holiday and Tyreke Evans are the most obvious answers, since the ball handlers are less focused on getting touches for Davis and more likely to look for their own shot whether at the rim or from the perimeter.
It also frees Jones to get additional opportunities in the low post and Donatas Motiejunas a chance to man the frontcourt. All have increased their contributions without Davis available.
“It’s a little different,” Holiday said. “Obviously, we rely on Anthony for a lot and when he’s out I guess I kind of feel like, not that we get more brave, but we know that Anthony can get us a bucket, so we put a lot on Anthony’s shoulders.”
The ultimate question is whether the Pelicans can stay within arms length of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference without a bona fide superstar. While increasing the responsibilities of role players may prove fruitful in the short term, New Orleans is at a severe disadvantage playing without Davis’ versatile skill set and top-notch scoring ability.
“We just want him to be as healthy as possible,” forward Solomon Hill said. “We want to just keep competing, regardless of who is on the floor. But, always No. 1 we want him to be healthy. That’s our main goal.”
3-POINTER: Spurs at Pelicans
The Pelicans return to the Smoothie King Center, facing the San Antonio Spurs at 7 p.m. Friday. Here are three things to know.
1. BOM-BOARDED: The Pelicans allowed 62 points in the paint during Wednesday’s 114-105 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, a statistic coach Alvin Gentry said cost his team a victory. It was the second-most interior points allowed by the Pelicans this season. Equally problematic was the efficient manner OKC scored in, making 31-of-50 shots in the paint.
2. HOMESTAND: Friday’s game against San Antonio is a crucial piece of a crucial juncture in the Pelicans' season. New Orleans needs to beat the Spurs and win Sunday against the Washington Wizards to salvage a winning record during its six-game homestand. The Pelicans have dropped three of their past four home games.
3. SPURRED ON: The San Antonio Spurs have remained on their lofty perch atop the Southwest Division, despite losing Hall of Fame center Tim Duncan to retirement last year. The Spurs rank No. 4 in offensive rating (scoring 111.4 points per 100 possessions) while also maintaining their typically stout defense, at No. 3 in defensive efficiency (allowing 101.7 points per 100 possessions).