It’s all hands on deck for the New Orleans Pelicans.
No pun intended.
As Anthony Davis recovers from a sprained finger in his left hand for the next 1-to-2 weeks, the rest of the Pelicans are dealt with the difficult task of replacing his production while trying to improve in the process.
It’s not a simple ask. And considering New Orleans lost three of its past four games despite employing a fully healthy roster for the first time since October, it’s clear the turnaround will require a dose of creativity and luck to rally together without Davis.
No matter what it won’t be simple.
Davis ranks among the NBA’s top five in points (28.1), rebounds (13.3), blocks (2.6) and minutes (37.1) per game and is a reigning first-team All-Defense selection and finalist for Defensive Player of the Year.
He is, without question, the Pelicans best player. And they are 1-4 in games he’s missed this season for a reason.
But, there are ways to account for his absence and at least hold steady until he’s re-evaluated later this week.
It starts, however, with an improved focus on defense , where New Orleans has slid to No. 27 in the league in defensive efficiency after poor efforts against the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers, who each posted 70-plus point halves during the past two games.
And offensively, the Pelicans will rely more on Jrue Holiday cutting to the basket, Julius Randle getting touches in isolation and Nikola Mirotic shooting from 3-point territory. While those are all typical parts of the Pelicans’ game plan they will be amplified without Davis.
“My mentality never changes,” Randle said after a Pelicans’ win over Minnesota in December, which Davis missed because of illness. "I continue to be aggressive and play hard and I know we have enough guys here who can win, no matter who is out. My mindset has not changed at all.
“AD is our leader and we rely on him a lot, but us as players, we have to come prepared for all situations.”
Their preparation will be tested severely, starting at 4:30 p.m. Monday in the FedEx Forum, where the Pelicans face the struggling Grizzlies as part of Memphis’ Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.
From there, New Orleans hosts the 20-25 Detroit Pistons in the Smoothie King Center, providing a soft adjustment period to life without Davis.
However, if Davis’ sprained finger takes until the back end of the timetable to heal, the Pelicans’ task becomes treacherous. They face four consecutive current Western Conference playoff teams (Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets) who could push the Pelicans deep behind the playoff pack before the Feb. 7 trade deadline.
But, as coach Alvin Gentry has often said this season, no one will feel sorry for the Pelicans for playing without their All-Star. So, to turn the season around, it will take a collective effort.
“It is about the same,” Holiday said of his mindset playing without Davis, after the win over Minnesota. “I think for the most part I usually tend to be aggressive, but I tried to read the game and let it come to me. Sometimes you might force it when Anthony might be out.
“We have enough guys here who can make plays, especially with EP (Elfrid Payton) being back and getting to the basket, his vision and trying to get acclimated back with him. We just have to feel it out a little bit.”