NEW ORLEANS — Monty Williams looked at the chairs surrounding the Pelicans’ home floor before Wednesday morning’s shoot around and saw nothing but the walking wounded.
Ryan Anderson, out for the season with a herniated disc, was sitting next to Jason Smith, who is out for the season with torn knee cartilage. Jrue Holiday, out for the season with a fracture right tibia, wasn’t even there.
By then were the new injured elite – Eric Gordon, day-to-day with tendinitis in his left knee; Brian Roberts, suffering from a bone bruise and a strained calf; and Austin Rivers, sick with a respiratory infection.
And then, well, then he had to figure out a message to deliver to the nine players who would be active and playing against the Clippers, winner of 14 of the past 15 games heading into the night.
“We’re sitting there looking at the guys go through warm-ups this morning and it didn’t look good,” Williams said. “So, we brought the guys together and just talked to them about just compete at a high level. Do what we do every single day.”
What happened less than 12 hours later was this – 16 points from reserve Darius Miller; 14 points and 11 rebounds from reserve center Alexis Ajinca; 16 points, 13 rebounds, six blocks and four assists for Anthony Davis; and an improbable 98-96 win over the Clippers for New Orleans.
How’s that for competing?
“That’s a huge win for us,” said Anthony Morrow, another unsung hero on the night after scoring 27 points in just his second start since Dec. 30. “I can’t tell you how proud of my teammates I am. That was great. We came out and competed all night. Forty-eight minutes. We needed 48 minutes from everybody, not 47.”
The Pelicans (31-40) did, indeed, get full games.
Miller, a second-year player who has nearly as many DNP’s as games played, was given the task of playing guard because of New Orleans’ lack of depth. That meant, at times, guarding Clippers All-Star guard Chris Paul.
The result was Paul’s worst night of the season, an 0-for-12 performance with his only two points coming from the free-throw line.
“The only thing I told Chris was just because you’re not playing well, that’s fine,” Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers said. “We’ll live with that. Just keep everybody in the offense and keep the movement. I thought Chris started pressing a little bit.”
What New Orleans lacked for in depth it made up for in effort, especially in the paint, where it fought the Clippers’ bigger frontcourt, winning the matchup with effort.
New Orleans scored 56 of its 98 points in the paint, doubling up the Clippers on the inside. And the Pelicans outrebounded Los Angeles (50-22) by 13, scoring 19 second-chance points on their 17 offensive rebounds. That was partly due to Ajinca, who didn’t back down from Los Angeles’ DeAndre Jordan, who finished with just eight points.
“The fact that he wasn’t timid, that to me says a lot about our locker room,” Williams said. “He went into the game with a bit of force and he wasn’t backing down from anybody.”
Now New Orleans has won 8 of 11 and four straight over teams in playoff position.
The most recent win, Wednesday night’s, began in the morning.
“You never know what can happen,” Williams said he told his players. “If you believe you’re going to lose, you have no shot. From that point on, our guys just stepped it up.”