this is a discussion within the Pelicans Community Forum; Jrue Holiday 's ankle is hurting, but not more than the New Orleans Pelicans ' waning playoff chances. On Jan. 21, the Pels found out they&rsquo;d be losing their starting point guard for two to four weeks with a &ldquo;stress ...
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Can New Orleans Pelicans Keep Playoff Hopes Alive Without Jrue Holiday?
Jrue Holiday's ankle is hurting, but not more than the New Orleans Pelicans' waning playoff chances.
On Jan. 21, the Pels found out they’d be losing their starting point guard for two to four weeks with a “stress reaction in his right lower leg.” Last year, after playing the team’s first 34 games, Holiday went down with a stress fracture in his right tibia.
As noted by Jennifer Hale of Fox Sports Southwest, “a stress reaction is the precursor to a stress fracture, so the Pelicans are hopeful that they caught this early enough to prevent it from developing into a full-fledged stress fracture.”
New Orleans, now 21-21, is in serious trouble without its floor general. Anthony Davis is the best player on the team, but the 24-year-old point guard is the straw that stirs the drink.
Holiday won’t be out for the season, which, in theory, allows the Pelicans to keep a faint postseason pulse. But he’s already sat out five straight games and, barring any setbacks, has the potential to miss as many as 11 more.
Though it's not a season-ending injury for Holiday, it could terminate the Pelicans' playoff hopes.
Shallow at PG
Take the second-best player off any team in the league and it’ll hurt. In the Pelicans’ case, this injury is especially painful because they’re about as deep as a Lil Wayne song at point guard.
The recently signed Nate Wolters, currently riding a 10-day deal, is the only other true PG on the roster. Tyreke Evans has started at the 1 for the past five games, but he’s not the long-term answer there.
Since Holiday’s ankle flared up on Jan. 12, the Pels have gone 3-3 (including the game the injury occurred). During that time, they’ve lost to the Boston Celtics (13-26), Philadelphia 76ers (8-34) and New York Knicks (7-36), who have a combined record of 28-96.
It should be taken into account that Davis missed three games during Holiday’s absence, including the embarrassing losses to the Sixers and Knicks. But c’mon—New Orleans should destroy both of those teams even without its two top guns.
''It's unfortunate for Jrue because he was playing well,” coach Monty Williams said, per John Reid of NOLA.com. “He is a big part of our team, but it's one more obstacle that we have to overcome.”
More like a mountain to climb.
The Pels have an offensive rating of 111.7 with Holiday on the floor, which would be good for fifth-best in the league, behind only the Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors.
But without him, that number plummets down to 103.1—the same as the lottery-bound Knicks.
Holiday is averaging 15.2 points, 4.1 assists and 3.5 boards a night, and he's also widely praised as one of the league’s premier defensive guards. His impact on that end will damage an already struggling unit that's surrendering 100 points a game, 17th most in the NBA.
“I think Russell Westbrook, when he wants to defend, and Jrue Holiday are the two best defensive point guards on the ball just in terms of sliding their feet and their activity with their hands,” Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said in November, via Matt Moore of CBS Sports.
The 23-year-old Wolters has shown some promise during his short stint in New Orleans, highlighted by a decent outing against the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 21, the same day Holiday’s injury was announced.
He scored six points and grabbed six boards in 22 minutes. Wolters isn’t a flashy player, but he can calmly control the pace and facilitate. He looked comfortable against Los Angeles, shooting without hesitation and leading cutters, like Davis, with crisp passes.
Wolters is a nice player for sure. But he’s a backup. The South Dakota State graduate won’t be able to fill Holiday’s shoes.
Williams will now be forced to lean heavily on Evans, who played point guard early in his career with the Sacramento Kings, and Eric Gordon (17 points and 10 assists against L.A.).
''It puts a lot more responsibility of Tyreke and Eric to be more facilitators,'' Williams said of Holiday’s absence, per Reid. ''At the same time, we need those guys to score big for us.''
The latest Holiday is projected to be back is after the All-Star break, which would probably be a smart move. It’d be better to get the ankle back to 100 percent rather than deal with nagging pain all year.
''I've tried to keep heat on it, but it got bigger (swelling),'' Holiday said. “It's just hard to play on it. I don't remember how it happened, but I hurt it when I started limping and it has gradually gone on. We've been trying to get the swelling down.”
As Holiday tries to keep the swelling down, the Pelicans will try to keep their heads above water.
And that won't be easy.
A Glimmer of Hope
Whenever you have one of the best players in the world, you’re never totally out of it. In Davis, New Orleans has a true star capable of doing special things.
Here’s what Holiday had to say about AD, per Jim Eichenhofer of NBA.com earlier this week:
He works hard. I don't think he takes anything for granted. He has all the talent in the world, but a lot of guys have talent and don't work hard, so it doesn't mean anything. (He is the) first one in the gym, last one to leave. He works as hard as he can to make himself better. That's why he is who he is.There’s no doubt Davis will rack up some Ws, even with his partner in crime on the sidelines. Take New Orleans’ most recent victory, 96-80 over the Lakers, for example.
In his first game back after missing three straight (left foot), Davis was uncharacteristically quiet in the first two quarters. He missed a wide-open dunk, turned the ball over a few times and just didn’t look like himself.
Los Angeles held Davis to nine points and led 44-43 at the break.
But in the second half, the Brow unleashed a 20-point barrage against the Lakers and spearheaded a 27-12 run in the fourth. He finished with 29 points, eight boards, four blocks and three steals.
"The team did a great job of looking for me and I tried to go find the ball in certain situations to try to get myself going," Davis said after the win, via The Associated Press (ESPN).
There will be other nights just like that, where Davis is aggressive and efficient and just flat-out unstoppable. But what happens when he’s human?
When the 21-year-old scores 21 points or less—or doesn’t play—the Pelicans are 6-11.
New Orleans is certainly putting a heavy burden on a third-year player who hasn’t even hit his prime yet. But that’s really the only option.
LeBron James did it in his first go-around with Cleveland, so it’s not impossible. But those are enormous shoes to fill. All-time-great shoes, in fact.
If AD can lead the Pelicans to a .500 record with Holiday out, it’d be a monumental success.
After starting the season 4-12 thanks to injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder have since gone 18-8 and catapulted themselves back into contention.
The first seven seeds in the West are all but cemented. Some will rise and some will fall, but the following teams are a safe bet earn a playoff berth: the Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Clippers and San Antonio Spurs.
Howard Beck, B/R’s NBA Senior Writer, wrote on New Year’s Eve the “Western Conference playoff race is over.” Beck pointed to those seven squads, and the Thunder, as the most likely top-eight finishers.
And that was before Jrue went down.
With Oklahoma City surging up the standings like Westbrook on a fast break, the Pelicans’ postseason hopes are inches from death.
At full strength, before any injuries, the team was still playing .500 basketball. That won't cut it in the West.
The road to the playoffs was already going to be a bumpy one. Now the pavement is littered with shards of glass, black ice and herds of wild animals.
OKC, currently just one game ahead of the Pelicans, is very likely going to distance itself from them in the next two to four weeks.
Hopefully for New Orleans—both now and in the future—Holiday comes back at full strength as soon as possible.
But it's very likely that when he does return, it'll be to a team that's taken its final breath of playoff promise.
All stats are accurate as of Jan. 22, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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