Pelicans prepare to play without Anthony Davis for next stretch of games

by Jim Eichenhofer

MEMPHIS – The recent blueprint for how New Orleans can compete without five-time All-Star Anthony Davis was executed on New Year’s Eve, when the Pelicans relied heavily on an array of contributors – highlighted by stellar work from starter Julius Randle and reserve Darius Miller – in beating Minnesota 123-114. Randle tallied 33 points, his second-best output of 2018-19, while Miller posted a season-high 21 points off the bench. Davis was sidelined due to illness, the only game he’s missed since Thanksgiving weekend.

New Orleans (21-25) will need something similar over the next stretch of games, because Davis is expected to miss approximately 1-2 weeks due to a left index finger sprain. He won’t be in uniform Monday, when the Pelicans face the Memphis Grizzlies (4:30 p.m., TNT, WRNO 99.5 FM) for the third time this season, nor during a mid-week back-to-back set vs. Detroit and at Oklahoma City.

“We’ve got to play harder than teams, come out with a ton of intensity, move the ball and help each other, offensively and defensively,” Miller said Sunday of the Pelicans’ focus without Davis. “We have to be even more connected now that he’s out, because he’s a huge piece. We don’t know how long we’re going to be missing him, so we’ve got to come out and work harder than other teams.”

The Dec. 31 triumph over Minnesota was New Orleans’ only victory among the five games Davis has missed this season. Despite not having the NBA’s third-leading scorer in those contests, the Pelicans have generated at least 111 points every time, but as has been the case in general, defense was problematic. NOLA has given up at least 114 points each of the five times Davis sat out a full game.

“We just know that losing our best player, everybody’s going to have to step up,” said center Jahlil Okafor, who made one of his three Pelicans starts Dec. 31, notching seven points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes. “Every single person in the locker room is going to have to take up the slack, because of not having him in there. But we’re all prepared for it and have put it in a lot of work, in case something like this happens. It will be a challenge, but we’re up for it.”

New Orleans (four games behind the eighth-place Clippers in Western Conference) is ranked No. 27 in the NBA in defensive efficiency, but over the next three days will face a pair of opponents in the bottom eight offensively. Memphis is 28th and has been held under 100 points in six of its 10 January games. The Grizzlies are the league’s slowest-paced team, averaging about seven fewer possessions than the Pelicans per 48 minutes.

“We’ve got to get out and push it in transition, force our tempo onto them,” Miller said of the Southwest Division meeting. “We’ve got to make them work on offense. They’re a grind-it-out team offensively, so we’ve got to make it tough on them, not let them get to their spots.”

Okafor: “We prefer to play fast; they prefer to play slow. They’re a very good defensive team, but we do want to play fast, make their guys run. Every time you play the Grizzlies, you know it’s going to be a fight, so I’m excited about it.”


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