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Without potentially 4 regular starters, it’s ‘next man up’ for Pelicans against Mavericks

The New Orleans braintrust is being mindful

NBA: Sacramento Kings at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday’s matchup is going to be a lot more daunting than originally expected.

The New Orleans Pelicans, who arrived in Dallas late last night after losing a hard fought contest to the Brooklyn Nets on their home floor, will face the Mavericks this evening more short-handed than they were 24 hours ago.

The Pelicans haven’t fared all that well on second nights of back-to-backs (2-3) and have really struggled to register wins on the road for much of the season, but the latest New Orleans injury report has put an even larger dampener on the Dallas matchup.

In addition to Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram sitting out, CJ McCollum (rest) and Larry Nance Jr. (right shoulder soreness) will not play. There’s a decent chance that Jonas Valanciunas misses the game as well; he’s listed as questionable with a right hand sprain.

On the flip side, the Mavericks will be without Dorian Finney-Smith (right abductor strain), Josh Green (right elbow sprain) and Maxi Kleber (right hamstring tear), but Luka Doncic, who was probable to play with left ankle soreness, is available.

The Pelicans have lost three of their last four games. They’ve won just twice in eight tries away from the Smoothie King Center since Thanksgiving Day. And there’s a distinct possibility that the team’s four biggest scorers will all be watching from the sidelines.

Meanwhile, the Mavericks just had a seven-game winning streak snapped by the Boston Celtics on Thursday.

One should never count these Pelicans out completely, and this year’s squad has definitely surprised us often in a good way, but some serious voodoo magic is required to avoid a “scheduled loss.”

According to one of the NBA’s greatest head coaches of all time though, a “scheduled loss” can be turned into a positive if an organization embraces it.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich circles these problem games on the schedule and prescribes the one cure for them: rest. “The guys appreciate it,” he says, “and it makes them even more committed to the program because they know you’re taking care of them and they’re not just a piece of meat that you’re going to use to win and move on.”

Giving McCollum some much-needed rest, and potentially Valanciunas too, along with Nance another day to rest his neck/shoulder area, the Pelicans appear to be very mindful of their players’ well-being.

As an aside, I’m somewhat excited to see if Trey Murphy can wiggle his way into 12+ field goal attempts, Herb Jones and Devonte’ Graham get additional reps to work themselves out of their shooting slumps and Kira Lewis Jr. enjoy some serious burn.

It’s been a next man up mentality seemingly all season with this team, but Saturday also represents a day to get better for even the most seldom-used players. You’re not going to be a good position to win every contest on an 82-game schedule, and if Coach Pop has found solace in “scheduled losses,” so can the rest of us.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (24-15) at Dallas Mavericks (22-17)

When: January 7, 2023, 7:00 p.m. CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.