Pelicans.com postgame: Thunder 116, Pelicans 94 (4/11/14)

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

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OKLAHOMA CITY – It wouldn’t be accurate to say that the New Orleans Pelicans’ injury situation has gotten ridiculous. That was already the case three months ago. But just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get worse health-wise for New Orleans this season, it got worse Friday.

Facing the daunting task of trying to remain competitive against the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder, the Pelicans entered the Western Conference matchup with only 11 healthy players. By game’s end, that number had been reduced to nine. Tyreke Evans – the only Pelican among the team’s six leading scorers this season who was in uniform – had to exit in the third quarter with a right knee bone bruise. Brian Roberts departed in the first half with a sprained left ankle.

Not that Oklahoma City (58-21) needed any help whatsoever, but the additional injuries made a difficult task for New Orleans (32-47) even more unreasonable. The injuries to Evans and Roberts meant the Pelicans were without each of their seven leading scorers this season, a seven-man group that has combined to average 103.6 points per game in 2013-14.

New Orleans stayed within striking distance of Oklahoma City for a quarter, trailing 30-23, but the Thunder powered to a 60-47 halftime edge and were up 25 by the end of three periods.

With All-Star forward Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday and Jason Smith already ruled out for the season due to injuries, the Pelicans couldn’t afford to lose anyone else, but Evans and Roberts were unable to finish Friday’s game. As a result, by the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Anthony Morrow’s season average of 8.1 points represented the highest remaining New Orleans scorer in 2013-14. The status of Evans and Roberts will be updated Saturday, when the Pelicans face the Houston Rockets in Texas.

“It’s a weird situation,” Pelicans Coach Monty Williams said of a seemingly unprecedented scenario of being without so many primary contributors. “I’ve never been a part of anything like this in my career. And yet, it’s a great opportunity for other guys.”

Darius Miller and Austin Rivers, who joined Davis in comprising New Orleans’ 2012 draft class, capitalized on extended chances to play against the Thunder. Often assigned to defend NBA leading scorer Kevin Durant (27 points, 10-for-18 shooting) at one end of the floor, Miller notched a career-best 18 points. Rivers tied Miller for team scoring honors with 18 points, while also registering eight rebounds and five assists. After officially signing with the Pelicans earlier in the day, rookie forward James Southerland managed to score 10 points in the final 9:31 of the game.

“We got some good games from a few guys,” Williams said. “I thought (the Pelicans) were absolutely phenomenal with their competitive nature. Our guys have scrapped and clawed and tried to do what they can to help the team and their teammates. It’s a tough situation, playing against a really good team. You’re kind of behind to start the game. But we're not giving in and we're not looking for excuses. We've got to go out and compete every time we step on the floor."