Injuries mount early in preseason for Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans fell to 0-2 in the preseason after losing to the Atlanta Hawks 116-102. Anthony Davis led the Pelicans with 16 points
But for the second straight game, the biggest news had nothing to do with the final score.
One night after watching Jahlil Okafor go down with a sprained ankle, Pelicans fans held their breath when another frontcourt player went to the floor.
Julius Randle was fouled by Hawks forward John Collins on a drive to the basket early in the second half. He fell awkwardly and left the game.
Fan favorite Frank Jackson was held out of the second half as a precautionary measure after what was called a “mild” ankle sprain.
With depth a glaring need for the Pelicans, it was disheartening. As of now, the team says there isn’t need for concern.
“He took a tough fall, but I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal,” Head Coach Alvin Gentry said of Randle’s situation. “He’s going to be sore. There was no reason to put him back in the game under those circumstances.”
With Jackson’s ankle, the Pelicans see no need to press the issue. They like what they’ve seen thus far out of the redshirt rookie from Duke.
“It didn’t make sense to stick (Jackson) back out there,” Gentry added. “We’ve got three more (preseason) games to play and plenty of minutes for him.”
Okafor will be evaluated today in New Orleans.
Darius Miller and Nikola Mirotić were sidelined with various ailments as well, missing their second games.
The story of the second preseason game was much like that of the first for the Pelicans. An absurdly high pace of play, further evidence why Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis are on the short list of the NBA’s best tandems, and another strong performance by Julius Randle (though he does have to do better at the free throw line).
Another game and another tough outing for Solomon Hill, Ian Clark, Cheick Diallo, and E’Twaun Moore. Of the four, most concerning is the play of Hill and Diallo.
Hill is either done physically, or lost mentally, which would be a surprise for a player as intelligent and accountable as Hill has proven to be.
Diallo is no better today than he was when he was drafted more than two years ago. Entering his third NBA season, Diallo still fails to display even the most rudimentary instincts for the game. Again, he is precisely the kind of person you root for, but the time has run out of the Diallo experience. We lost the Black Panther in Infinity Wars too (spoiler alert).
None of the Pelicans fringe players seized their moment with the playing time they received, outside of Trevon Bluiett. The sweet shooting stroke Bluiett displayed during summer league has arrived in the fall. The marksman was 3-for-4 (2-for-3 from deep), scoring eight points in 15 minutes.
Recent signee Brandon McCoy also had some moments, picking up seven points and a team-high 8 rebounds.
There was a noticeable improvement in the play of point guard Elfrid Payton. Payton seemed more relaxed and in control as he scored seven points, dished out seven assists, and grabbed four boards without a single turnover. He showed he could be a potential outside scoring threat, making one of two three-pointers to go along with the forays to the bucket he’s known for.
“It was great progress from last night,” Payton said after the game. “We’ve still got a ways to go; just feeling these guys out. “I was so used to always having to call stuff, and organize things. These guys already have it so it made things go a little bit smoother today.”
“He makes it easier on everybody,” said Jrue Holiday of Payton’s upside. “He gets into the paint really easy, he’ll throw the late pass, the backdoor pass, he gets to the basket, and he locks up defensively. I think that’s the mold we want.”
The Pelicans are counting on a healthy squad led by an efficient Payton to lead them to the Conference Semifinals and beyond.
The former obviously having a dramatic impact on the latter.
New Orleans (0-2) will be back in action on Friday, October 5, when they face the New York Knicks (1-0).
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Sports 1280am host/CCS reporter
David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…