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Pelicans Limping to Starting Line

Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans were bitten by the injury bug before the season even had a chance to get underway. In Tuesday night’s loss against the Golden State Warriors, the Pelicans didn’t have Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Omer Asik, Norris Cole, Luke Babbitt and Quincy Pondexter. New Orleans was only able to field nine players against the Warriors in what looked like an awfully foreboding start to the regular season.

The month of October has been particularly rough for New Orleans. Evans underwent knee surgery, Cole suffered a high ankle sprain, Babbitt strained his hamstring and Asik was sidelined earlier in the month with a calf strain. (Alexis Ajinca also got hurt, but he played briefly against Golden State.) Add these injuries to Holiday’s leg injury and Pondexter’s knee surgery, and the Pelicans have found their roster significantly depleted to start the season and are forced to rely heavily on what would normally be the bottom end of their bench.

Tuesday night, the Pelicans started Nate Robinson at point guard and Kendrick Perkins at center. While Perkins actually played adequately, neither of the two are starting-caliber players at their position. If either one is playing significant minutes in a team’s rotation, it’s probably a sign that things aren’t going particularly well. As much as I loved Perkins when he was a Celtic, he’s been an offensive liability for a long time now. His lack of mobility also hasn’t exactly helped him with the pace and space NBA. As for Robinson, his time as a spark plug off the bench looks to be finished, so expecting him to start seems doubly far-fetched.

Neither Perkins nor Robinson played more than 20 minutes, but the fact that the Pelicans had them in the starting lineup showed how desperate New Orleans was for capable bodies. Somewhat luckily for them, Ish Smith stepped up coming off the bench, looking capable of stemming the tide and filling minutes while the Pelicans await the return of their other guards. With Robinson providing nothing as the starter, Smith could be the primary point guard until Holiday is able to play more minutes on a night-to-night basis.

Holiday has been recuperating from his leg injury and missed the Warriors’ game to rest. He’s still under health restrictions that include a 20 minutes a night limit and no back-to-backs, so it was interesting to see Alvin Gentry pass on playing Holiday against the Warriors and instead choose to play him against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.

Gentry cited a hard practice a few days ago and said he felt more comfortable playing Holiday a day later than the opener. While I don’t doubt that’s true, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Gentry figured his team wouldn’t beat the Warriors with so many of his players injured and decided to save Holiday for the more winnable game against Portland.

There are surely people who’d say teams should always be doing everything to win, but successful coaches know they need to manage their lineups for the whole season, not just game to game. It’s just a shame the Pelicans have to pick their spots and take it easy so early when most teams get to start the season fresh.

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