Jrue Holiday’s eyes lit up at the sound of it.
Three days off.
“Oh, they’re huge,” Holiday said through a wide grin. “I’m really looking forward to them.”
It’s well deserved.
The New Orleans Pelicans (15-15) have not only played more games than any other Western Conference team, but Holiday and Anthony Davis have averaged more minutes than any players in the NBA. So, the desire to rest is understandable.
They need a break.
And the benefits of rest were sung in chorus by just about everyone associated with the Pelicans following their 118-114 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night. After playing a jam-packed 19 games in 33 days, the Pelicans acknowledged fatigue was at least a partial culprit in their inconsistency.
Over its past 10 contests, New Orleans has yet to post consecutive results, trading wins and losses to remain tethered to a .500 record.
“I’m not looking for excuses, but we’ve played the most games in the NBA and it does have a real effect,” forward Solomon Hill said. “When you’re trying out new things and there’s so many games, and Jrue and AD are playing so many minutes, I won’t say it’s an excuse but it’s real. I don’t care what sport it is, being No. 1 and No. 2 is minutes played is something.”
It’s why the Pelicans took Thursday off entirely and are expected to do the same Friday. They might practice Saturday before Sunday’s 6 p.m. tipoff against the Miami Heat, but even that is uncertain.
It’s all part of a strategy to maximize the rare rest afforded by the schedule. Because it’s proven hard to keep up that pace otherwise.
“Someone else is just going to have to step up, because it is a lot of minutes,” Gentry said of Davis and Holiday’s workload before Wednesday night’s win. “We’ve played more games than anyone in the league right now, so obviously they’re going to play the most minutes, but we’ll back off on that some. Other guys are going to have to step up and do the job.”
But hours later, the Pelicans employed Davis for 40 minutes and Holiday for 34. It was enough to hang on for a last-second victory but also illustrated how crucial both of them are to the Pelicans’ success.
As Gentry admitted, it’s hard to keep them on the bench.
“If that’s what we’ve got to do to win, that’s what we’ve got to do,” Gentry said. “It’s great for them to sit out for five minutes, but it’s not great if we’re losing. We’ll get them rest whenever we can, and that’s why whenever practice comes around, we don’t require them to do a whole lot.
“But we have to try to win games.”
And the pressure on Davis and Holiday has intensified during this compact stretch of games. Not only is Elfrid Payton (broken finger) out until January, but he’s been joined on the injury report by Nikola Mirotic (ankle) and E’Twuan Moore (leg strain) the past two games, depleting an already thin bench.
So perhaps by just playing one game over the next week, the Pelicans can get their rotation back in order without having to tax their stars.
In the meantime, the Pelicans will enjoy this respite from near constant competition.
“I feel great,” Davis said. “Of course these next few days will definitely make me feel better. We need a break, as an entire team. But overall I feel fine.”
Davis sounded unconcerned by the concept of leading the league in minutes per game. As long as it gets the desired results.
“Whenever they ask me to go into the game, I just try to go in,” Davis said. “There are games I come out at the end of the third and go back in with 10 minutes left. So whatever coach needs me to do or the team needs me to do to win, that’s what I’ll do.
“I’m 25 years old, so ask me again about five years from now.”