The New Orleans Pelicans can’t replace Anthony Davis.
The first-team All-NBA stalwart is sidelined while he recovers from a broken index finger, leaving the rest of the Pelicans to fill in the gargantuan hole left in his absence.
So far, at least, they’re showing a blueprint of how to make it work.
“We know it’s not about one guy or two guys trying to do what Anthony does, because one or two guys can’t do that,” Jrue Holiday told TNT after Monday’s win over the Memphis Grizzlies. “It has to be a collective effort. It has to be on all of us doing it together. And I think we did that tonight, and that’s what we’re capable of doing until he gets back.
“Of course, it’s hard to replace all of the ways he makes us better, but if we each do a little bit, then we can get there.”
And the most important collective step the Pelicans made Monday was ramping up their team defense.
The 105-85 victory was the lowest scoring output by any Pelicans opponent this season, by far. It was a far cry from the 147-point and 128-point deluges the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers racked up in the previous two games.
And while the opponent certainly helped ease the Pelicans’ defensive transition, coach Alvin Gentry said he believes the Pelicans' most important adjustment was simply playing with better effort on that end of the court.
The defensive energy one of the most important X-factors facing the Pelicans for the next week or two, while they await Davis’ return. So far, so good.
“We approached the game the right way,” Gentry said after Monday’s win. “I thought we played extremely hard, and did a good job of playing with each other. That was one of the best defensive games we’ve had this year. Obviously, they’re not a team that runs up and down and scores a lot of points, but we held them under 90 points. I thought we did a good job of being in positions to help on the screen-and-rolls, being up on them when they couldn’t turn the corner and start downhill, and we made some shots.
“I thought we just played hard. I really did.”
On the other end, New Orleans capitalized on a wrinkle in its starting lineup. Instead of starting traditional third-big and sharpshooter Nikola Mirotic, the Pelicans turned to journeyman 23-year-old center Jahlil Okafor.
And after he piled up 20 points and 10 rebounds on 9-of-11 shooting, he’ll likely be back in that spot again when the Pelicans face the Detroit Pistons at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Smoothie King Center.
“We know we can score on the offensive end. We have a lot of guys that are really talented, and when I’m out there with guys like Julius (Randle), Niko and Jrue Holiday it makes my job a lot easier,” Okafor said. “It was a lot of fun playing with those guys. It was a lot of fun, obviously, to come out with the win. I guess I am happy with the outcome.”
The former No. 3 pick not only took full advantage of his opportunity to start, it also allowed the bench to stay balanced behind him. By using Okafor in the middle, it kept Mirotic as a threat for those minutes when the Pelicans’ reserves have struggled.
And it helped keep New Orleans from suffering a debilitating run when the starters exited the floor — an issue that has cropped up often this season.
It’s the kind of collective effort and low-key boost that’s required for the Pelicans to stay afloat without Davis on the court.
“The thing that we like is that we want some kind of firepower coming off the bench,” Gentry said. “I talked to Nikola about it, and he understands. Nothing is going to change with his minutes or anything. It just gives us some coming off the bench that obviously gives us a stronger bench from a scoring standpoint. That stuff matters.”