The Western Conference standings paint a picture of optimism for the New Orleans Pelicans, but the current state of their injury-ravaged roster offers a far more bleak image of the present.
While the Pelicans entered Saturday just 1.5 games behind the Golden State Warriors for a position in one of the postseason play-in series, their rotation doesn’t provide much room for hope.
New Orleans, set to face the host Houston Rockets on Sunday, dropped both games of a back-to-back against the Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks with three starters sidelined by injuries: forwards Zion Williamson (thumb) and Brandon Ingram (foot), and guard Lonzo Ball (hip).
Exacerbating matters was the loss of reserve forward Josh Hart, who sustained a torn thumb ligament and is expected to be sidelined for an extended period.
Hart, averaging 9.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists over 28.7 minutes, suffered the injury amidst a 17-rebound performance against Orlando on Thursday. He was entrenched in the forward rotation with Williamson and Ingram, whose statuses against the Rockets remain in question.
“It’s going to be very significant, no question,” Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said of losing Hart. “Obviously we feel it defensively. He’s a guy who’s guarded guys one through four for us and he’s our best defensive rebounder. He had 16 defensive rebounds (Thursday) night so we’re going to miss him a lot at both ends.
“Plus he’s a guy who can get out, lead the break, go coast-to-coast and score. He makes a decent enough amount of 3(-pointers) that you have to guard him. It’s a big loss, no question.”
Veteran James Johnson, acquired from the Dallas Mavericks at the trade deadline last month, will be charged with filling the void with Hart sidelined. But with Van Gundy describing the Pelicans as “a little thin” in the frontcourt, time is running out on the Pelicans’ playoff aspirations.
Despite dropping five of six games since ending their franchise-record 20-game losing streak with a win against Toronto on March 22, the Rockets have shown signs of improved play of late.
Still, Houston remains plagued by a roster that seemingly remains in constant flux, with trade deadline acquisitions Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley just the latest players to join what has been a rotating cast of contributors this season.
In their 118-102 loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday, the Rockets had Olynyk, Bradley and veteran guard D.J. Augustin — who joined Houston along with forward D.J. Wilson as part of the trade that shipped P.J. Tucker to Milwaukee — in their rotation. Guard Kevin Porter Jr. also wasn’t with the team at the beginning of the season, all of which yields an ongoing learning curve.
“We have new guys with Kelly and Avery,” Rockets center Christian Wood said. “I’m still trying to figure those guys out and I’m trying to figure out how to play with Kelly on the floor at the same time. But I feel like they’re acclimating themselves well. It’s little things that we have to fix defensively but offensively, I think we’re almost there.”
–Field Level Media