Focus always gravitates toward the stars.
Consume sports media on any given day, in any given format, and it’s easy to hear an analyst wondering where (insert player) will sign in free agency. Or if (insert player) will get traded to (insert team) to pair with (insert player) to become the NBA's next super team.
Stars run the league. And their movement is the primary driver behind the NBA’s ascent in interest.
It’s impossible to reach contention, much less win a championship, without multiple All-Stars or All-NBA playing together.
But sometimes, in the endless chatter about the headliners and household names, the importance of a full roster gets overlooked. Over the course of an 82-game season, depth is revealed and exposed in various ways, swinging playoff appearances and seeding with it.
It’s a lesson the New Orleans Pelicans have learned a few times within the past week alone.
So even as Anthony Davis' visit to Boston came with series of questions about his future and loud cheers from courting Celtics’ fans, Davis finds his present circumstances much more concerning.
"I heard (the cheers),” Davis said. “But I’m just focused on this team. I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team get wins with the roster we have. It’s been a rocky season, so it’s on me to try to figure it out. I know the team follows me. I’m the leader, and I’ve got to be the one to make sure that we’re ready to play every night.
“So for me, I just go out there and play with this team and go out there and try to have fun and get wins. That’s all I’m worried about, is getting wins for this team, and hopefully we can get further than we did last year.”
The responsibility is on more than just Davis, though.
Even with Davis and Jrue Holiday playing at All-Star levels, and Julius Randle in the midst of a career year, the Pelicans still can’t gain any traction. They flipped results over each of the past nine games, putting together a dizzying loss-win-loss-win-loss-win-loss-win-loss streak since Nov. 26.
The latest turn came in Monday’s 113-100 defeat at Boston, where the Pelicans saw the power of team depth first-hand.
Although New Orleans played without guards Elfrid Payton (finger) and E’Twaun Moore (rest), their injury list was nothing compared to the Celtics sitting All-Stars Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward.
Yet Boston’s bench grabbed the additional minutes available and pummeled the Pelicans. Despite playing without four key contributors, Boston still employed nine different players for at least 18 minutes each, and the Celtics outscored the Pelicans bench 41-21.
And last week’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies was dragged down by New Orleans’ bench getting dominated by a whopping 53-11 margin.
The lack of depth is partially responsible for Davis and Holiday playing more than anyone else in the NBA this season. The pair rank No. 1 and No. 2 in minutes per game, each averaging nearly 37 each night.
In other words, the Pelicans simply can’t lean any more on their stars than they already do.
Now New Orleans could be digging even deeper into the void, as Nikola Mirotic is slated to miss time with a lingering ankle injury, starting at 7 p.m. Wednesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“It’s been hurting him for a while,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “We just have to sit out him and get him healthy. I mean, he’s tried to do it and no one is more of a gamer than he is. No one is going to try or give more effort, but he’s not in a position where he can do that. So we just have to sit him out until he’s healthy.”
That leaves the Pelicans searching for answers with almost no avenues left.
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They’ve pulled Solomon Hill and Tim Frazier back into the starting lineup to add some layers, but there haven’t been enough impactful and consistent performances from the Pelicans’ supporting cast to propel them to a winning streak.
Instead, their defense continues to suffer, ranking No. 24 in points allowed per 100 possessions — even though Davis and Holiday are reigning first-team NBA All-Defense selections.
It’s uncertain right now where the help will come from. New Orleans has tried an array of combinations, but few have clicked for more than a game at a time, thus the endless string of topsy-turvy results.
“Win one, lose one, win one, lose one for the past eight, nine games,” Davis said. “So we’ve got to put a string of wins together.”