As losses mount, Pelicans trying to keep spirits up
When the New Orleans Pelicans embarked on their current five-game Western road trip, it came after a demoralizing home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
It was important, Pelicans guard Anthony Morrow and forward Al-Farouq-Aminu said, to keep their spirits up.
After All-Star second-year power forward Anthony Davis’ shoulder was injured in Wednesday’s loss at Dallas, it remains to be seen if the Pelicans can do that. Starting the road trip with another setback, the Pelicans (23-34) have lost five consecutive games.
“We’ve lost some tough games,” Morrow said. “The main thing is, we have to continue to come out with the right mentality.”
Davis’ ailment is yet another one in a season that has been robbed of its potential because of injuries to key players. The Pelicans head down the stretch of the toughest part of their schedule, with no playoff berth to play for and virtually no chance of gaining a winning record.
And, they face immediate challenges to their goal of maintaining a positive outlook. Friday night, the Pelicans play at the Phoenix Suns (33-24), followed by a game in Los Angeles against the Clippers (40-20).
The Suns, who are in the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race, have beaten the Pelicans twice this season, including on Nov. 5 in New Orleans, when the Pelicans’ roster was close to full strength.
The Suns shot 68 percent in the third quarter, including 7-of-10 on 3-point attempts, in outscoring New Orleans 37-24 and taking a 78-69 lead into the fourth quarter. In the fourth, they then blitzed the Pelicans with an 18-7 run in the last five minutes to finish them off.
Led by guard Jamal Crawford, the Clippers, who lead the Pacific Division, shot 16-of-28 on 3-point attempts to trounce the Pelicans 123-110 on Monday night at Smoothie King Center. That was the first loss in which Coach Monty Williams said he saw an opponent’s performance — specifically its shooting — get the Pelicans’ spirits down.
Two more losses and the thought of playing without their best player, and one can only wonder where their spirits will be after this weekend.
Davis’ injury likely thrusts recently signed forward Luke Babbitt into more of a prominent role. When Babbitt, a former first-round draft choice of the Portland Trail Blazers, came to the Pelicans on Feb. 4, it primarily was to provide the outside shooting the team has missed since Ryan Anderson was injured on Jan. 3. However, Babbitt has provided a lift in spots, not to mention the value of being another body capable of playing quality minutes on a depleted team.
Babbitt came to New Orleans after his contract was bought out from his team in Russia.
“He has been a pleasant surprise for me,” Williams said, “because you don’t expect a guy to come in after being overseas all year and have the impact he’s had.”
No one expected Babbitt to be playing 19 minutes per game like he has, except for maybe Babbitt. Able to play both forward spots, he has averaged 6.2 points and 3.3 rebounds in nine games. Against Dallas, with Davis being hurt, Babbitt played 25 minutes, 34 seconds and scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including 2-of-4 on 3-point attempts.
“I knew when I was brought here, it wasn’t necessarily to sit,” Babbitt said. “I knew there would be an opportunity. But I’m thankful, and I’m getting more and more comfortable every day.”
Center Alexis Ajinca, signed on Dec. 20, apparently is becoming increasingly comfortable, too. Against the Mavericks, Ajinca had 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting, with eight rebounds — four offensive — three assists and one block in 25:41.
It marked the second consecutive game scoring in double figures for Ajinca. Against the Clippers, he had 19 points and 12 rebounds, both career highs. Six of the rebounds were offensive.
“My teammates have gotten to know where I like to get my shot and how I can be more effective,” Ajinca said. “I want to continue improving, but I’m playing better and better, adjusting. Hopefully, it will continue and I can help the team.”
Wednesday night’s game marks the second consecutive in which the Pelicans are playing on ESPN. The Pelicans played the opening game of a double-header Wednesday on the network. Against Phoenix, the Pelicans will be playing in the second of two games being broadcast.