Pelicans shootaround update presented by HUB International: Anthony Davis doubtful for Denver game

by Jim Eichenhofer

Aspiring playoff teams Denver (13-10) and New Orleans (12-12) are both headlined by All-Star-caliber players at the center and power forward positions – increasingly a rarity in the NBA – but Wednesday’s matchup may be more notable for who isn’t playing. The Nuggets’ big-man tandem of Nikola Jokic (ankle) and Paul Millsap (wrist) will be out of action due to injury in the Smoothie King Center, while Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (left adductor strain) is listed as doubtful to play Wednesday.

In a small sample, both teams have stayed competitive in recent games without their top players. Denver is 1-1 in the games missed by Jokic (Millsap has been out since mid-November), beating the Lakers handily but dropping a one-sided game at Dallas. New Orleans is 1-1 in two full games without Davis, coming from behind to win at Portland, then taking a 21-point lead vs. Golden State before getting outplayed in the fourth quarter.

“(The Nuggets have) still been winning,” credited Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, who is coming off a 34-point game against the Warriors. “They’ve still been playing. It’s all about opportunity. Every player in this league wants that opportunity. We have to do the same thing, play hard, execute, try to cut down on our turnovers.”

Denver is 4-2 since Millsap was injured in a Nov. 19 loss at the Lakers. He and Jokic are among the NBA’s premier playmakers at their position, which helps make the Nuggets an excellent passing team. Denver can’t play exactly the same way without those two, partly because fill-in starters Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee are not as adept in distributing the ball.

“(Denver has changed the way they play) a little bit,” Holiday said at Wednesday’s morning shootaround. “You don’t have Jokic, where he’s coming down and facilitating. I don’t think Plumlee plays that role as well. But it’s still the same backcuts, wide-open threes, transition. It’s similar but not the same.”

Other notes from Pelicans shootaround at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center:

Holiday has tallied 20-plus points in three of his past five games. He praised the passing ability of backcourt partner Rajon Rondo, saying the point guard’s floor vision has helped create excellent scoring opportunities.

“It’s a little easier with (Rondo),” Holiday said. “I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. He really pushes the pace, especially last game, the way he pushed the pace, especially in transition.

“You pretty much just have to get in his vision. Most of the time you don’t have to be in his vision. He’ll still get you the ball. You just have to be in the vicinity of where he wants to throw it, and he’s going to get it to you.” …

New Orleans has managed to score 123 and 115 points in the two games Davis has missed vs. Portland and Golden State, respectively, after struggling in the fourth quarter at Utah on Friday, when the All-Star had to exit due to his injury. It’s been an impressive two-game stretch, especially considering that Davis is an extremely efficient offensive player, shooting a career-best 57.3 percent from the field this season.

“Guys have stepped up to the plate, especially when the ball is moving,” Holiday said of the team’s offensive performance maintaining a high level over the two non-Davis games. “The ball has energy.”