Status of Gordon, Smith uncertain vs. Denver
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
Just when it looked like the New Orleans Pelicans would finally have nearly their entire complement of players healthy and available, two setbacks have created further uncertainty about Monty Williams’ starting lineup and rotation.
Not long after Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans made dual returns to action Dec. 18 at the Clippers, two Pelicans season-long starters – Jason Smith and Eric Gordon – sustained injuries that threaten to keep them out of upcoming games.
Smith was already sidelined for the final two games of the five-game Western road trip, vs. Portland and Sacramento, while Gordon sustained a scary fall to the floor on a layup attempt against the Kings. Smith, who had started all 24 previous games at center for New Orleans (12-14), is being listed as day-to-day. Gordon has played in each of the team’s 26 games so far but was rested for the past three days after suffering a right hip contusion.
“We’ll find out more about him with rest and rehab,” Williams said after practice early Thursday evening. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow (at Friday’s shootaround prior to hosting Denver).”
Meanwhile, reserve center Greg Stiemsma (left knee MCL sprain) was recently cleared to run for the first time since his injury in a road loss to the Lakers. He was ruled out for 6-8 weeks after suffering the injury in mid-November.
With Smith and Stiemsma both hampered by injuries, the Pelicans signed 7-foot-2 center Alexis Ajinca on Dec.20. The French big man made an immediate impact 24 hours later by grabbing 11 rebounds in just 17 minutes of action at Portland.
Ajinca’s contributions could again be critical against a Denver team that outrebounded New Orleans by a 51-32 margin on Dec. 15. The Nuggets won the first head-to-head meeting of the season against the Pelicans 102-93, though New Orleans did not have Davis back on the floor at the time. Denver is ninth in the NBA in average rebound differential (plus 2.3), while New Orleans is tied for 12th (plus 0.2).
“That to me is a lot about will and effort and competing,” Williams said of Denver’s 19-rebound advantage. “Give them credit. That’s what they do. They dominated the boards. We have to have guard rebounding, and our bigs have to understand who they’re playing against. (Kenneth) Faried and (J.J.) Hickson, those guys do it well, as good as anybody in the NBA.”