Omer Asik battles with Orlando's Nikola Vucevic for a rebound last season

Pelicans trying to make best of injury situation while seeking first win against Magic

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

With injuries significantly affecting the point guard and center positions, the New Orleans Pelicans and new head coach Alvin Gentry have been forced to improvise when it comes to lineups and on-court assignments. So much so that combo forward Dante Cunningham half-jokingly said he’s ready to slide over to primary ballhandler if necessary.

“I’ll bring the ball down the court,” a smiling Cunningham said after Monday’s practice. “I’ll do it the old-school (way) and back (the defender) down all (94 feet) with my butt. However we’ve got to do it.”

Things haven’t gotten to that point yet where the Pelicans (0-3) need the 6-foot-8, 230-pounder to lead the offense, but they’re trying to adjust as best they can with numerous players sidelined. New Orleans will seek its first victory of the regular season Tuesday vs. Orlando (0-3), while continuing to lose contributing players to injury.

Over the past 24 hours, Pelicans center Kendrick Perkins was ruled out indefinitely with a pectoral injury he sustained Saturday vs. Golden State. Meanwhile, Omer Asik – who was projected to start at center in 2015-16 – came off the bench in his Saturday regular season debut and played 10 minutes, but did not practice Monday. Gentry said his status vs. the Magic is to be determined.

Gentry: “We’ll have to see. It’s one of those things where if he feels good tomorrow, we’ll see. But that’s not a definite.”

If Asik can’t play against Orlando, it would leave the Pelicans with only one nominal center, Alexis Ajinca, though Anthony Davis has played the position sporadically (17 percent of his career minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.com).

At point guard, New Orleans is without Tyreke Evans (knee) and Norris Cole (ankle), while starter Jrue Holiday is on a 25-minute restriction per game. One piece of positive news is that number has steadily increased from 10 at the outset of preseason. As a result, recently-signed Pelicans point guards Ish Smith and Toney Douglas have been forced into major minutes, despite having little practice or preparation time.

Orlando features one of the NBA’s most promising backcourts, led by New Orleans native and point guard Elfrid Payton, as well as recent Magic lottery picks Victor Oladipo and Mario Hezonja. A rookie, Hezonja was excellent vs. the Pelicans during preseason, sinking four three-pointers among his 19 points.

“They’ve got good young players,” Gentry said of an Orlando team that’s narrowly lost to Washington, Oklahoma City and Chicago. “They’re trying to find a way to establish themselves in the league. They play extremely hard. Anyone who knows (Magic Coach) Scott Skiles’ teams, the one thing you can hang your hat on is they’re going to be competitive and play hard as heck… It’s a team that’s hungry for a win, just like we are.”

The Pelicans briefly had a season-high 12 players available during Saturday’s game vs. Golden State, but that number immediately dipped when Perkins was injured just two minutes into the contest. Gentry is stressing the importance of his players not rushing back from injury before they are healthy.

“We’ll just have to look and evaluate and be cautious,” he said. “We’ve got to look long term at everything we’re doing.

“You look at the (undermanned) situation and try to make adjustments, and then you may have to make adjustments within those adjustments. It does us no good to sit around and complain about it. We’ve just got to deal with it from a mature standpoint and see what we can do to be as good as we can be.”

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