LOS ANGELES – After missing 18 games due to an MCL sprain in his right knee, Ryan Anderson will be back on the court Wednesday vs. the Los Angeles Lakers, a much-anticipated return to the lineup for a New Orleans team that’s getting closer to full strength. Anderson was sidelined Feb. 21 at Miami with the injury; at times it appeared to Monty Williams that the reserve catalyst may not be able to return this season, but his condition improved greatly recently.
“We’ve been chomping at the bit to get all of our guys back on the floor,” Williams said. “To get Ryan back at this point of the season is big for our group. Our guys know Ryan’s value. It’s good that he’s taken a turn for the better in the last two weeks. About a week and a half ago I started thinking, maybe he’s going to come back and play this year. Because before that, we didn’t know. So it was exciting (to see Anderson’s progress).”
With only nine games remaining in the regular season and the Pelicans (39-34) trailing the Thunder (42-32) by 2.5 games in the race for eighth place in the West, Anderson is cognizant of the notion that he doesn’t want to disrupt how well New Orleans has played. The Pelicans went 11-7 over the 18 games Anderson missed.
“It’s tough being injured and sitting out, especially as you get closer and closer to the end of the season,” Anderson said. “We’re in this playoff race; it’s tough sitting out. Obviously I’ve been wanting to do everything to come back. Today I feel good. I did a lot of strengthening exercises and a full practice yesterday. I just have to get warmed up and ready, but I’m excited, ready to go.”
Williams does not have a specific minute restriction for Anderson, but will be monitoring him and base his playing-time allotment on that. The Pelicans have gotten quality performances from frontcourt players Anthony Davis, Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca and Dante Cunningham, while remaining within striking distance of Oklahoma City.
“You make sure you keep his minutes at a level that doesn’t force him to (for example) pull a hamstring,” Williams said of his approach to easing Anderson back into the mix. “You don’t want to throw the rhythm off of the bigs that are playing. Alexis and Dante, Omer and AD have played really well. Incorporating Ryan into that group is going to be a bit of a challenge. At the same time, I don’t want to upset that rhythm.”
Anderson said he’s not 100 percent yet in terms of basketball shape – it would be impossible to maintain that after being sidelined for five-plus weeks – but the Pelicans certainly can use his perimeter shooting, among his various strengths. Despite missing the 18 games, Anderson ranks a close second on New Orleans in three-point makes in 2014-15, with 111 in his 52 appearances (Eric Gordon has 117 treys).
“There’s going to be moments where I have to work out some kinks, and I’m not in the greatest shape,” Anderson said. “I just want to help the team. We’re playing really well right now, so I don’t want to be a (impediment) in the wheel. At this point in the season it’s tough coming back while the guys are playing at a high level. I just want to help the team, and I’m going to do everything possible on the court to do that.”