Halloween’s still a week away. But already the Pelicans are being haunted by the spirits of seasons’ past.
Injuries, which have kept several frontline players out of action for more games than not in the past three seasons, didn’t even wait around for this one to start.
The Pelicans play their final exhibition game Friday against Miami in the Smoothie King Center with five players out and another questionable.
And this is not just being done a precautionary measure.
None of the five sitting out against the Heat — centers Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca, guards Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole and forward Quincy Pondexter — are expected to be ready for Tuesday’s opener against defending champion Golden State, although their anticipated return dates vary.
Throw in point guard Jrue Holiday being on a severe minutes restriction until January and the Pelicans’ training staff must be working overtime.
The injuries also have caused a frenzied churning of the bottom of the roster. In the month since training camp began five players have been signed, including former UNO star Bo McCalebb, who may have earned his first NBA roster spot after spending six years in Europe.
Or, as first-year Pels coach Alvin Gentry suggested Thursday, the team is likely to be looking closely at the waiver wire after cuts are made this weekend.
The bottom line is that a team that went down to the final minute of the final regular-season game of last season to squeeze into the playoffs is facing a rugged first two weeks of this season — eight of the first nine opponents were in the 2015 playoffs — at far less than full strength.
Anybody want to take the over against the official Las Vegas line of 47.5 victories for the Pels?
Even Pierre would be slow to raise his hand, er, wing.
And that’s despite the presence — thankfully healthy at this juncture — of Anthony Davis, the player the league’s general managers say they’d most like to have to build a franchise around.
But sympathy — and excuses — are in short supply in the NBA.
“Injuries are just part of the game,” Gentry said. “And the games are on the calendar, and when they come you just have to play them.
“Our thinking is that eventually we’ll get all of these guys back. Until then, we’ll play the best we can with the lineup we have and hold down the fort.”
But shouldn’t there be an extra sense of urgency given the competitiveness of the West — Oklahoma City, which the Pels beat out for their playoff berth via a tiebreaker is Sports Illustrated’s pick to reach the Finals — and the unavoidable fact that wins and losses in November count just as much as they do in April?
“There’s always a sense of urgency,” Gentry said. “Our whole goal is that we’ve got to compete like crazy. Hopefully we’ll still be doing that in April and we’ll be able to win enough games to get into the playoffs.”
At least, forward Ryan Anderson pointed out, all of the injured players — plus almost all of those who will be carrying the load when the scores start counting — were teammates last season, so they know something about facing adversity together.
Throw in veterans Kendrick Perkins and the recently signed Nate Robinson and you have others who have seen fire and rain.
“It’s depressing sometimes when you’re sitting and watching to do what you want to be doing,” said Anderson, who played in only 22 games in 2013-14 before going out with a herniated disc. “You can’t just run thought an injury or get better by lifting weights.
“But we have guys who fight back, who want to get back on the court and help this team. And you also focus on the guys you have on the court because they’re the guys you’ve got to depend on.”
After the uplift of last season’s playoff appearance followed by the positive reaction to the hiring of Gentry after the parting of ways with Monty Williams, the signing of Davis to a max contract tying him to the team through 2021 and retaining all of the other key players leading to the loftiest predictions for the Pelicans since they were still the Hornets and Chris Paul was thought to be the franchise’s future, it would be a shame to see those aspirations basically dashed before Thanksgiving by a poor start.
But Anderson said that’s not going to happen. Or if it does, the Pels won’t go away easily.
“Our playoff experience of playing good basketball at a high level added another layer of leadership,” he said. “Obviously starting against Golden State is a big challenge. But we’re coming in with the mentality to beat them and we’re definitely not going to make it easy for them.”
And regardless of how the opener comes out, there’s the rematch just four nights later — Halloween — at the SKC.
So will it be trick? Or treat?
Probably the former. But the latter happening would be sweeter than a pile of candy corn.