PORTLAND, Ore. — Pelicans coach Monty Williams canceled his team’s morning shoot-around before Sunday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center, because … well, what was the point?
Already a lock for a third consecutive appearance in the NBA draft lottery, the Pelicans were in Portland for their third road game in five nights with little to play for other than pride.
Considering the aches and pains the Pelicans have endured this season, including the back spasms that relegated All-Star forward Anthony Davis’ playing status to a game-time decision Sunday, Williams chose rest for his team over another morning workout.
But, please, don’t suggest the Pelicans have been cast as “spoilers” for the stretch drive. Williams doesn’t buy that.
“No, not this team,” he said “I think you reduce yourself to something that you never even thought about at the beginning of the season when you start doing that. I think you go out and play every game to win, no matter what the situation is.”
Although the Pelicans’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed by an eight-game losing streak coming off the All-Star break, there’s no reason to think this team lacks motivation as it approaches the finish line. There is plenty of incentive.
Take reserve guard Anthony Morrow, who has been playing some of his best basketball in the past few weeks. Morrow is expected to exercise the player option in his contract after this season and test the free-agent market, so he’s looking to make the most of every opportunity he has to show off his talents to prospective suitors.
But what else do the Pelicans have to play for in the week and a half remaining in the season?
“To win the game,” Williams said. “That should be everybody’s motivation.”
This season has tested Williams in ways the fourth-year coach could not have imagined, particularly in light of the season-ending injuries to forward Ryan Anderson, point guard Jrue Holiday and center Jason Smith that have largely defined the 2013-14 Pelicans.
Throw in the knee injury that kept guard Eric Gordon sidelined for his ninth consecutive game Sunday, and the net result is four players who represent about 30 percent of the Pelicans offense sitting on the sidelines.
Portland coach Terry Stotts said the situation is comparable to what the Blazers would face if they were to play without Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Joel Freeland.
“When you lose your second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers and another rotation big, it puts a lot of pressure on everybody,” Stotts said. “I think Monty is a terrific coach, and he had handled the situation very well. I’ve been in situations as a head coach where my top two scorers were out for a while and … it’s difficult. This league is hard enough when you have your guys, so I empathize with that.”
Williams doesn’t use the injury situation as an excuse.
“It’s part of the NBA,” said Williams, who spent five seasons as an assistant on Nate McMillan’s staff with the Blazers before taking over in New Orleans. “It’s unfortunate we had it pretty much three years in a row. But empathy or sympathy isn’t going to get us any more wins.”
Regardless of how the final 10 days of the season play out, the Pelicans already have won five more games than they won last season. In some respects, that qualifies as a success, although Williams doesn’t see it that way.
“We’ve improved in a number of areas,” he said. “Obviously, taking Anthony Davis from one level to maybe three or four levels higher. But we would have a much better record if we had all of our guys, so I don’t think the equation can be worked out because it’s so incomplete.”