West’s best Spurs face hobbled Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans have lost five games in a row, including back-to-back against the Dallas Mavericks, and with three of their key players injured.

And they won’t catch a break now. Up next on the schedule is Monday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, then Wednesday against the Houston Rockets, both at the New Orleans Arena, as the Pelicans finish four consecutive games against Southwest Division foes.

With point guard Jrue Holiday out indefinitely with a fractured right tibia, forward Ryan Anderson sidelined indefinitely with a herniated disk, and guard/forward Tyreke Evans nursing a re-injured sprained left ankle, the Pelicans face difficult odds.

San Antonio (28-8), which quietly has notched the Western Conference’s best record, blew out the Pelicans in the teams’ first meeting Nov. 25 in San Antonio.

“It’s not just tough offensively and defensively,” Pelicans shooting Eric Gordon said concerning the absence of Holiday, Anderson and Evans. “Those guys make good decisions.

“For us to beat these tough teams, we have to play fast-paced, and you can’t beat yourself. Don’t turn the ball over. And you have to get defensive rebounds. The next thing you know, you have a chance to win.”

The last time the Pelicans faced the Spurs, it appeared early on that they didn’t have a chance, and that was with New Orleans’ roster basically at full strength.

In what has become more of a recurring problem of late, the Pelicans trailed by three points entering the second quarter, then shot 7-of-20 and turned the ball over eight times, and San Antonio went into halftime with a 17-point lead.

It quickly got worse, with the bulge swelling to 32 points in the second half, and the Spurs finished the game having shot 54.3 percent, including 40 percent on 3-point attempts. The hot shooting overcame 19 turnovers and a slight rebounding deficit (48-45) as San Antonio won its season-high 11th consecutive game.

“I thought their offense was about as crisp as any offense we’ve ever seen,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “We didn’t raise our level.”

That has been the situation since it was disclosed Anderson will be out with the herniated disc, an injury that has been known to take a month to heal on average. The Pelicans have not won since Anderson was injured at Boston on Jan. 3 in a collision with Celtics small forward Gerald Wallace.

Anderson, one of the top 3-point shooters in the NBA, provided spacing that helped enable teammates’ forays to the basket. Then, with Holiday and Evans getting sidelined, opponents have been able to play on-the-ball defense more aggressively against lesser playmakers Brian Roberts and Austin Rivers, with weakside help able to rotate into the lane and shut off any drives by Gordon.

“We just have to adjust,” Gordon said. “We just have to keep learning each other, including the guys coming off the bench.”

The Pelicans did seem to adjust Saturday in Dallas, losing by three after falling by 17 on Friday at home. Reserve small forward Darius Miller showed he may be able to help in Anderson’s role, shooting 4-of-5 on 3-pointers, including consecutive ones late that pulled the Pelicans to one late in the game.

The Spurs may be without super sixth man Manu Ginobili, who has a strained hamstring, and center Tiago Splitter, who has a right shoulder sprain.

However, future first-ballot Hall of Famer Tim Duncan averaged 19.7 points and 13.7 rebounds in the Spurs’ three-game winning streak before Sunday’s home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

And in his past five games, former New Orleans player Marco Belinelli has averaged 16.6 points, up from his season average of 10.8. Belinelli, who leads the NBA in 3-point percentage at 50.4, has shot 65 percent (13-of-20) in that span.

NBA: Refs missed foul call

Rod Thorn, the NBA’s vice president of basketball operations, said Sunday that a foul should have been called on Dallas’ Monta Ellis at the end of Saturday’s game.

After Mavericks point guard Jose Calderon sank two free throws with 9 seconds left, making the score 110-107, the Pelicans’ Rivers got the inbounds pass from Anthony Davis and pushed the ball upcourt.

Rivers attempted a 3-pointer that, if he made it, would have tied the score. But Ellis appeared to grab Rivers’ arm as he was taking the shot. If the foul had been called, Rivers would have gotten three free throws and a chance to tie the game.

In his postgame comments, Williams said he was “embarrassed for the NBA” for the foul not being called, and he said he hoped the league would review the play.

“It’s hard to swallow that kind of no-call in a game like that,” he said.

It was the second time in two weeks the NBA acknowledged a missed call near the end of a close game won by the Mavs.