Not much is working these days for the Pelicans.
New Orleans has lost four straight games and seven of eight. The Pelicans have stumbled — realistically, if not mathematically — out of the playoff picture. And on Monday night, they face the unenviable task of trying to right the ship at Golden State, the NBA’s best team and, at 30-0, its only undefeated club at home.
Dark clouds abound, so the Pelicans will take almost any silver lining.
They might have found a sliver of silver recently in the small-ball lineups that coach Alvin Gentry has unveiled. Playing Anthony Davis more minutes at center isn’t translating to wins, but it is giving New Orleans different looks.
In a loss at Charlotte last week, the Pelicans used a lineup of Davis at center, Dante Cunningham at power forward, Alonzo Gee at small forward and Jrue Holiday and Toney Douglas in the backcourt. That look helped New Orleans battle back in a game it trailed by 17 points.
“We like that lineup,” Davis said. “We can just switch everything, keep everybody in front (of us). I think that might be a lineup we try to go to often now.”
New Orleans’ most-used lineup over the past three games has featured Davis at center, Ryan Anderson at power forward, Cunningham at small forward and Holiday and Douglas in the backcourt. That group is shooting just 20 percent from 3-point range while on the floor together and allowing 131.1 points per 100 possessions while scoring 107.3.
Over that same span, New Orleans has played 11 minutes with that lineup of Davis, Cunningham, Gee, Douglas, Holiday and Douglas — and it has been the team’s most effective (albeit in a small sample), averaging 151 points per 100 possessions. It’s allowing 128.2 per.
“I think defensively it kind of fuels us when we get stops like that, and then offensively we have guys that just run,” Holiday said. “One through five, we just run, Alonzo to Dante to A.D. and Toney — everybody kind of plays a faster pace.”
Statistically, the smaller lineup hasn’t played at a fast pace — it averages 89.7 possessions per 48 minutes, well below New Orleans’ season average of 99.1 — or well defensively.
But the smaller lineup has, in its limited time on the court together, shot an effective field goal percentage — a figure that takes into account the relative value of 2-point shots vs. 3-pointers — of 81.3 percent.
With backup center Alexis Ajinca sidelined with a fractured sternum, the Pelicans have played increased minutes without either of their true centers, Omer Asik and Kendrick Perkins. Five of their six most-used lineups over the past three games are without either player. That has meant more minutes for Davis at center, where he has played 53.1 percent of his minutes this season, according to NylonCalculus.com.
Gentry prefers not to have Davis log major minutes at center against big, physical, post-up players. But the Pelicans’ injuries and the opponents’ personnel sometimes dictate Davis’ position.
That likely won’t be a problem Monday against the Warriors, the league’s best team and its most dangerous small-ball offense.
“I’m OK with it regardless. It’s all about pride (defensively),” Davis said. “No matter how big the guy is or how much taller than you — it really doesn’t matter. Of course (Gentry) doesn’t want that, but if I have to do it, then I’m going to.”