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New Orleans Pelicans Proved a Lot by Winning Without Anthony Davis

this is a discussion within the Pelicans Community Forum; The NBA is a superstar-driven league, and without their headliner, the New Orleans Pelicans aren’t going to get very far. But when Anthony Davis missed time before and after the All-Star break due to a shoulder injury, the Pels banded ...

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Old 03-09-2015, 01:33 AM   #1
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New Orleans Pelicans Proved a Lot by Winning Without Anthony Davis

The NBA is a superstar-driven league, and without their headliner, the New Orleans Pelicans aren’t going to get very far.

But when Anthony Davis missed time before and after the All-Star break due to a shoulder injury, the Pels banded together and put together a surprising run which currently stands as their best of the season.

In addition to AD, starting point guard Jrue Holiday (since Jan. 14) and off-the-bench scorer Ryan Anderson (since Feb. 23) have also been on the sidelines. Take away three-fifths of any team’s core, and that squad—even if it’s playoff-caliber—will stumble like a newborn deer.

Somehow, though, the Pelicans have kept on flying.

Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Quincy Pondexter, Alexis Ajinca, Norris Cole—these names aren’t going to fill arenas, but they can win games with tons of ball movement and heart.

If New Orleans is going to claw its way into the postseason, Davis will be the driving force. However, we learned a lot about the rest of the Pelicans in the absence of The Brow.

And with under 20 games to go, their play will be just as important as the superstar’s.

Weathering the Storm

After Davis came shuffling out eight minutes into a contest against the Miami Heat on Feb. 23, all hope appeared to be lost in the land of the Pelicans.

The 21-year-old MVP candidate first tweaked his shoulder after falling off the rim against the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 7. Davis sat out the All-Star Game to get healthy, but in just his second game back, a freak injury struck again.

Russell Westbrook and his Oklahoma City Thunder would run away with the eighth and final playoff seed—at least, that’s what everyone seemed to think.

Everyone...except for Davis.

Here's what he said on the morning when his recovery timetable (2-4 weeks) was announced, per John Reid of NOLA.com:
It's basketball, it's life and it happens. I just got to get it back right. It's the same exact thing, it's like it happened all over again. I got elbowed right on the same spot. I was going up and [Hassan] Whiteside was coming down.

Jrue (Holiday) comes out, then me and Ryan (Anderson) goes out Saturday. It's tough because two weeks before I did all this work to try and come back. But we have enough guys to step up and still make that push. I know they are going to play hard and go out there and compete.

AD’s comments seemed like player talk. What’s he supposed to say? "Yup, we’re done without me out there" wouldn’t have been a good look.

However, he was right.

New Orleans’ five consecutive victories—which includes the win over Miami—in Davis’ absence represented the team's longest streak all season.

It wasn’t a cupcake schedule, either. Sure, the Denver Quitters Nuggets were beatable, but picking up a pair of W's over both Miami and the Brooklyn Nets—both playoff contenders in the East—and knocking off the Toronto Raptors was impressive.

OKC currently holds just a slim one-game lead over New Orleans.

Forward Quincy Pondexter, who arrived in New Orleans via the Austin Rivers trade, has done everything that Doc’s son couldn’t do. Since being inserted into a full-time starting role, the 26-year-old has helped the Pels go 7-2.

"We're missing great players, but at the same time we are all NBA players,” Q-Pon said, per Reid. “We're going to miss them to death, but we have to go out and get the job done.”

The Pelicans have obviously fulfilled Pondexter’s prophecy.

But how in the world have they done it?

Next Man Up

In a very Atlanta Hawks sort of way, the star-less Pelicans moved the ball and relied less on one-on-one opportunities.

The five-man lineup of Omer Asik, Dante Cunningham, Evans, Gordon and Pondexter (102 minutes) has been good for 10.2-plus assists per 100 possessions. No other lineup with more than 30 minutes of action has accumulated anywhere close to that number.

“We’ve got some momentum,” head coach Monty Williams said on March 2, per NBA.com. “Probably more confidence than anything, with so many guys having played such critical roles for us that haven’t had a chance to do it, or just didn’t do it thus far. We welcome momentum, confidence and guys stepping up."

Since criticizing Williams is fair game when the team can’t get over .500, it’s only right that the coach gets a ton of credit here.

He’s managed to get a bunch of role players to believe in themselves and one another. That’s impressive.

“It’s been great team basketball for us,” Williams said. “Offensively, we’ve had a number of guys step up on any given night, and it’s good to see our guys play great team basketball.”

Team, team, team—is it all just words, or did the Pels really bind together?

Well, New Orleans had a different top scorer in each of the five games during the winning streak. On the year, the team has averaged 21.6 dimes per night. During the streak, that number jumped to 25.4.

Doing all this without Davis, one of the league’s premier players, is impressive. But this resilient surge began way before he jerked his shoulder the wrong way.

After Holiday’s ankle flared up, Evans became the starting 1. The 25-year-old bull of a ball-handler has excelled at the position, scoring 16.8 points on 44.6 percent shooting while also contributing 8.2 assists and five boards per game.

“Reke Havoc” has gone for 20-plus points seven times and double-digit assists, which he had done just thrice prior, 10 times without Holiday.

Evans hasn’t been the only surprise out of the backcourt, as Gordon has been downright spectacular since he returned from a shoulder injury on Jan. 5.

In the 30 games following the shooting guard’s comeback, he’s scored 14.6 points while hitting 41.9 percent of his field-goal attempts and 48.2 percent of his triples.

General manager Dell Demps also pulled off a Trade of the Year candidate by turning John Salmons into Cole as part of the Goran Dragic trade at the deadline.

The move received limited buzz in terms of publicity, but it’s been a godsend for New Orleans, which finally got the reserve PG it needed on the hardwood.

Cole has increased his scoring and assist numbers while also hitting a greater percentage of his field-goal attempts. Since the two-time NBA champion has donned the Pelicans' uniform, the team has gone 7-2.

Now, with the wind at their backs, the Pels have their big dog back.

AD reintroduced himself to the tune of 39 points, 13 boards and eight blocks in a 88-85 win over the Detroit Pistons on March 4. He’s averaged 30.3 points (54.2 percent), 12.3 rebounds, 5.3 swats and 1.3 steals in the three games since his return.

With the role players clicking and the superstar dominating—not to mention a Thunder team trying to stay afloat without reigning MVP Kevin Durant—New Orleans is looking like a legitimate playoff contender.

All stats are accurate as of March 8 and courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

Read more New Orleans Pelicans news on BleacherReport.com

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