The injuries to guard/forward Tyreke Evans and point guard Brian Roberts mean the New Orleans Pelicans were without seven players when Friday night’s game at Oklahoma City ended.
Evans has a right knee bone bruise and likely will not return for the final two games, Monday against Oklahoma City and Thursday against Houston, both at Smoothie King Center.
Roberts has a sprained left ankle, and if he can’t play in either game, that would be unfortunate. He leads the NBA in free-throw shooting at 94.6 percent (122-of-129), and needs to make just three more to qualify for the title.
“I think it’s huge because nobody expected him to even be in the conversation,” coach Monty Williams said. “When you look at the league and guys who shoot a number of attempts, you think (Dallas power forward) Dirk (Nowitzki), (Houston guard James) Harden, (Oklahoma City forward Kevin) Durant. Those are the guys you think are going to win it, because they get so many attempts and they shoot a high percentage.
“No one thought it would be a guy like Brian.”
If Roberts is unable to play or make three free throws, the title would fall to Nowitzki, who is second at 89.7 percent.
Roberts’ winning it likely would give the limping Pelicans two individual statistical category champions. Despite fading slightly from a blocked shot average of 3.0, Anthony Davis remains in first play at 2.82 blocks.
Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka tried to stay in the race with eight blocks against the Pelicans on Friday night. However, he needs 20 in the Thunder’s final three games — at Indiana, at the Pelicans and at home against Detroit — to beat Davis, who is sitting out the final five games with back spasms.
James Southerland has had to pick up a few basic items in joining the Pelicans.
Southerland was signed for the last four games after it was announced that Davis and Eric Gordon would not be returning because of injuries. Southerland, a 6-foot-8 forward who was playing for the NBA Development League Los Angeles D-Fenders, was signed by the Pelicans before the game at Oklahoma City, and he had to act quickly.
“We had a playoff game against Santa Cruz, and it’s a 45-minute flight,” Southerland said. “I’m thinking, ‘It’s going to be a quick flight, so I brought a sweat suit and a pair of sneakers, and I didn’t really think anything of it.
“I woke up the next morning (in Santa Cruz), and I got a call from my agent that I have to pack my bags because I have to go. I told him, ‘Well, I didn’t bring any bags to pack. Where am I going?’
“He said to OKC, with the New Orleans Pelicans. I said I need to get some things. But I’m not worried about myself. I just want to play hard.”
Southerland, who went undrafted from Syracuse in 2013, had 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting and three rebounds in his first game as a Pelican.
At Syracuse, he set a Big East Tournament record by making six 3-pointers without a miss and for making 17 3s in one tournament.
He played one game with Charlotte this season before being waived.
Guard/forward Gerald Green nailed 3-point shot after 3-point shot during the Phoenix Suns’ shoot-around practice on Wednesday morning at Smoothie King, the last few from way behind the arc as his teammates and coaches watched, a smile creasing their faces.
“I’m the best 3-point shooter in the whole league,” he boasted, loud enough for someone in the upper deck to hear. “Not just on this team. Both teams. In the whole arena!”
Suns forward P.J. Tucker chuckled while sitting courtside.
“I don’t know,” Tucker said. “What about Ryan Anderson? He plays in this arena.”
That gave Green pause.
“He is bad,” Green agreed. “Yeah, Ryan can shoot it. No doubt.”
Tucker nodded. Like that of Green, Tucker had seen Anderson’s work up close and personal. A game at Phoenix on Nov. 23, 2012 had left an indelible mark. Anderson shot 8-of-13 on 3-point tries, scoring 34 points, but the Suns won 111-108.
Tucker said he thought it was 11 3-pointers.
“I’d never seen anybody shoot the ball like that,” Tucker said. “He went nuts on us. Everybody got a piece of him (defensively), me, Markieff (Morris), (former Sun Luis) Scola. That was crazy.”
There was a reason Anderson was on Tucker’s mind with the Suns’ at Smoothie King. The day before, Anderson had surgery to repair two herniated disks in his neck.
“I hope he makes it back, man, because he can put that ball in the hole,” Tucker said. “My prayers are with him and his family.”
Of course, Phoenix Suns center Miles Plumlee had seen the block by his younger brother, Mason, against LeBron James on Tuesday.
The block at the rim against James, at the buzzer, preserved an 88-87 victory by Brooklyn in Miami that gave the Nets a 4-0 season sweep of the two-time defending champion Heat.
“It was unreal, perfect situation,” Miles Plumlee said. “He’s athletic enough to do that. So, I was just proud of him not backing down, and things turned out in his favor.”
Miles said he hadn’t spoken with Mason but that he texted him “Nice block!”
“He texted back ‘Thanks,’ Miles said.
Miles Plumlee had a memorable block this season, although it didn’t come against a player as notable as James or at the buzzer of a big game with playoff seeding implications and preserving a sweep.
Against Sacramento on Dec. 13 at Phoenix, Kings center DeMarcus Cousins stole and inbound pass near the Suns’ 3-point line at the 9:30 mark and took off for a dunk on the other end. Plumlee ran him down and as Cousins was attempting a two-handed dunk, blocked the shot from behind.
The ball bounced past the Kings’ 3-point line and led to a jumper by Eric Bledsoe that started a 14-0 run. The Suns then won easily 116-107.
“That was probably my best block of the season,” Plumlee said.