The New Orleans Pelicans are using the remainder of the season as an audition to see what their youngest players are capable of doing.
The opportunities for the youngsters expanded with 15 games remaining as the organization determined before Friday’s game against Toronto that guard Jrue Holiday (abdominal strain) and swingman E’Twaun Moore (quad contusion) will be sidelined for at least a week to 10 days.
Then just minutes before the game in the Smoothie King Center, All-Star forward Anthony Davis was scratched from the starting lineup because of back spasms.
The youthful and short-handed Pelicans hung with the team with the NBA’s second-best record for more than a half, but Toronto pulled way for a 127-104 victory.
“I really like the way we competed in the first half,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “We didn’t have a great start to the second half, but it’s important for the guys who are playing important minutes to continue to get better.”
Holiday started all 67 previous games this season, so his absence forced the Pelicans to use their 27th different starting lineup. Rookie Frank Jackson started in his place and scored a team-high 20 points.
“You can see Frank is going to be fine,” Gentry said. “He continues to improve in all areas.”
Julius Randle scored 18 points, Cheick Diallo came off the bench to add 16 points and 12 rebounds, Elfrid Payton scored 13, Ian Clark had 11 and Darius Miller 10 for the Pelicans (30-38).
Rookie Kenrich Williams started in Moore’s place and had nine points, five rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes.
Seven of the 10 Pelicans who played are in their fourth season or less.
“We’re going to gauge the rest of the games on whether the young guys are getting better,” Gentry said.
Moore, who started 36 of the 53 games in which he played, missed two games in December due to a lower leg strain and missed 11 games due to the quad injury that has plagued him since early January.
Davis’ minutes had been cut nearly in half to about 20 per game in the wake of his demand for a trade before the back issue arose. His status is unclear for New Orleans’ game on Sunday in Atlanta.
Jahlil Okafor started in his place and had two points and three rebounds in 17 minutes before the leaving the game for good in the third quarter because of a sprained left ankle.
Toronto outscored New Orleans 63-43 in the second half and shot 54 percent from the floor for the game in the absence of Davis, the Pelicans’ top interior defender, and Holiday, their top perimeter defender.
“Obviously it’s a big adjustment because of (Holiday’s) scoring, but he gets other guys shots and the way he shuts guys down on the defensive end is a big help,” Payton said. “But we’ve got a lot of talent in this locker room and we’ll figure it out.”
Kawhi Leonard scored 31 points, including 24 in the first half, and made 14 of 20 shots to lead the Raptors (47-19).
Kyle Lowry added a triple-double with 13 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds, Pascal Siakam scored 19 points, Jeremy Lin had 14, Danny Green 13 and Serge Ibaka had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The Raptors outscored the Pelicans on fast-break points, 53-15.
“That was the difference in the game,” Gentry said.
Toronto made 21 of 32 shots on the fast break.
“We’ve got to do a better job of getting back,” Payton said.