It was just a couple days ago the Pelicans were tied in the loss column with the Oklahoma City Thunder. A favorable matchup with the Phoenix Suns was on tap and New Orleans would move back into a tie with OKC with just 14 games remaining. Sadly, the injury bug decided to strike a most ruthless blow.
Anthony Davis rolled his ankle during the shoot around. He stepped on Omer Asik's foot and according to reports from Jen Hale during the Phoenix game was unable to bear weight on it getting back to the team bus. During the second quarter of a hideous contest Tyreke Evans rolled his ankle again; the same one sprained against the Brooklyn Nets. In the third quarter Omer Asik left after just over two minutes with a calf strain.
No one realistically expected the Pelicans to defeat the Golden State Warriors at home on Friday night. That loss was preordained. The loss to Phoenix, one that improbably the Pelicans had a chance to win in the closing moments, should have been a victory. Injuries, as they have for two consecutive seasons, decided otherwise.
Now what remains of the New Orleans Pelicans limps into the Staples Center. As of this writing updates on Anthony Davis, Omer Asik, and Tyreke Evans are unknown. Evans played just 15 minutes against the Warriors before getting a quick hook in the third quarter after limping a bit. If those three can go the Pelicans have a chance against the Clippers. If not, it could get ugly. Chris Paul and company continue to battle for playoff positioning and even home court in the first round as the Western Conference standings from second to seventh are incredibly tight.
Keys to Victory
Be Healthy: If the Pelicans are going to pull this out, they need their best players available. Anthony Davis, Omer Asik, and Tyreke Evans have performed quite well since the All-Star Break. New Orleans still has much more than a simple glimmer of playoff hope and two days off after the game. If Davis, Asik, and Evans can go the Pelicans need them in uniform.
Hakeem Abdul-Ajinca: If there is one opponent Ajinca LOVES to play, it is the Los Angeles Clippers. 17 points and 9 rebounds on January 30th. Three double-doubles last season (19 & 12, 11 & 10, 14 & 11). In order to be effective Ajinca must avoid foul trouble (he racked up 16 fouls in three games last season, fouling out once) and convert in the post. He showed a couple flashes against the Warriors that his post game is still humming. New Orleans will need it.
Bury Their Bench: The Clippers are absolutely terrible off the bench. Their reserves are a disaster, led by former Pelican Austin Rivers. Jamal Crawford remains out due to injury. If the Pelicans are relatively healthy a bench unit of Norris Cole, Luke Babbitt, Dante Cunningham, and Ajinca should demolish Los Angeles when Doc Rivers goes to his reserves.
Big Game Gordon: Eric Gordon had an excellent game against the Clippers in January. 28 points and 7 assists while shooting 5-7 behind the arc. Ryan Anderson (who scored 24 while going 5-11 behind the arc) won't be available to stretch the floor so the duty will fall to Gordon and Quincy Pondexter. LAC is one of the best offenses in the NBA. In order to keep up the Pelicans have to make threes.
What: Pelicans at Clippers
Where: Staples Center
When: March 22nd, 2:30 PM
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, NBA League Pass