Entering the 68th game on the schedule, the New Orleans Pelicans (30-37) will encounter a first on the season: no Jrue Holiday in the lineup. The region’s favorite All-NBA defensive player will not play due to a lower abdominal strain and is expected to be reevaluated in 7-10 days by team doctors.
So, what should we expect against the Toronto Raptors (46-19) without the Pelicans heart and soul lining up at tip-off?
Likely, a whole lot of tough sledding.
Not only will New Orleans dearly miss Holiday’s production (21.2, 7.7 assists, 5.0 rebounds), they’ll be without the one Pelican who sets the tone better than anyone else against the team sporting the league’s second best record.
When I asked Julius Randle at the conclusion of Thursday’s practice if he has ever played with a player like Holiday, who leads by example but through effort, he responded, “Uh, no. Not a guy that plays that hard every night — who competes like that. It’s pretty unbelievable.”
Since Anthony Davis decided to leave the arena early against the Oklahoma City Thunder right before the All-Star break, the Pelicans are 17.6 points better per 100 possessions when Holiday plays versus when he sits. For comparison purposes, New Orleans is 3.3 points worse per 100 possessions when Davis is on the court versus off during this same span.
Randle, who is averaging 25.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.6 threes over the last nine games, will likely try to shoulder the biggest load. He’s been as hot as anyone, but he’s not going to be able to do it alone.
The game notes indicate Stanley Johnson will replace Holiday in the starting lineup, but if New Orleans has any hope of pulling off the upset, Elfrid Payton is going to have to produce his biggest game of the season. As fans in Phoenix and Orlando can attest, Payton has the capability of posting a monster line on that rare occasion. Elf has 11 career triple-doubles to his credit, but only one in a New Orleans uniform (a 10/10/10 line on opening night against Houston).
Alvin Gentry needs at least a few of his guys to go wild because the Raptors are loaded. Although he’s missed 18 games, Kawhi Leonard is one of the best in the business (27.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.9 steals), and Kyle Lowry (14.7 points), Pascal Siakam (16.4 points) and Serge Ibaka (15.3) are all good secondary scorers. Also, don’t forget about the contributions from Danny Green (9.9 points), Fred VanVleet (10.5 points) and recent acquisition Marc Gasol (10.6 points).
If you may recall, the Pelicans upset the Raptors in Toronto early in the season. Holiday and E’Twaun Moore combined for 59 points and 17 assists, and Davis (25 points) and Randle (17) were excellent in support. Unfortunately, the only thing that really sticks out in my mind from that game was the following quote by AD to Dennis Scott on NBATV.
“We said it’s going to be a Finals matchup for us. We approached it that way.”
Anywho, can the Jrue Krewe put up a valiant fight and winning effort minus their leader (and a sidelined E’Twaun Moore)?
Let’s geaux, Pels!
Pelicans: Payton - Kenrich - Johnson - Randle - Davis
Raptors: Lowry - Green - Leonard - Siakam - Ibaka
Where To Watch/Listen
What: New Orleans Pelicans (30-37) vs Toronto Raptors (46-19)
Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA
When: Wednesday, March 8th, 2019. 7:00 PM CST
How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO