Pelicans downplay pressure to make playoffs

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Anthony Davis doesn't see the point to thinking about what might happen to the only NBA coach he's had if the New Orleans Pelicans fail to make the playoffs again this season.

"We know we have a lot of work to do as a team this season and it starts tomorrow," Davis said Monday, referring to Tuesday's first practice of training camp. "We're going to be working to make sure that guys are staying in the gym and take it a game at a time."

Coach Monty Williams and general manager Dell Demps arrived in New Orleans in the summer of 2010. The club hasn't been to the playoffs since 2011, when Chris Paul was still the starting point guard for a team then called the Hornets and temporarily owned by the NBA.

This will be the club's third season under the ownership of Tom Benson, who also owns the NFL's New Orleans Saints, and the conventional wisdom is that the 87-year-old Benson expects to win now.

Or rather, he expected to win last season — until an unusual rash of injuries took the Pelicans out of contention.

This year, it looks as if all key players will be healthy when the season starts Oct. 29, with the exception perhaps of Tyreke Evans, who has a strained hamstring that will sideline him for much of camp.

New Orleans also has added established 7-foot center Omer Asik to support Davis in the frontcourt.

"We have a lot of great pieces here," Davis said. "We have a lot of guys who can score the ball, a lot of guys who can defend. I think we have a great team. We've got to take it a day at a time, a game at a time, and hopefully we move in the right direction early in the season and keep going in that direction."

Demps said the Pelicans obviously want to make the playoffs, but added, "I don't want to sit here and say it's a complete failure if we don't," in part because the Western Conference appears to have numerous strong teams.

The key, Demps said, is for the team to show continual growth.

When Williams was asked if he was concerned about the pressure to win now, he tersely answered, "No."

Starting point guard Jrue Holiday (fractured shin), high-scoring forward Ryan Anderson (herniated disk) and center Jason Smith (torn knee cartilage), who is now with New York, each missed more than half of last season and required surgery. Eric Gordon, meanwhile, didn't seem to have his usual explosiveness while playing most of the season with knee soreness before finally shutting it down in favor of an arthroscopic cleanup.

Evans made it through the whole season, often playing hurt, before having an arthroscopic procedure on his knee.

"I don't think we're really looking at playoffs," said Holiday, who expects to practice with limitations in camp but be ready for the regular season. "We had so many guys injured, we're just trying to get that feel again, trying to get that camaraderie on the court and from there, taking it a game at a time."

If the Pelicans can have any luck with injuries this season, Williams said: "We have a great opportunity to improve and compete and that's what we're looking forward to. ... Just having guys healthy, to me, is like a free-agent signing."

Indeed, they have a slew of young but established double-figure scorers in Davis, Anderson, Holiday, Gordon and Evans, and should get exceptional defending and rebounding from Davis and Asik. There are some questions about the small forward spot, but Demps and Williams have said the 6-6 Evans may be able to play that spot, even if he gives up a few inches defensively, because he'll have Davis and Asik protecting the rim behind him.

In any event, the Pelicans should have the ability to have numerous scoring options on the court at any given time, and they are eager to see how that is going to look.

"I think we're going to win a lot of games this year," Anderson said. "They've been building for this group since Chris Paul left."

"I don't think there's necessarily a sense of urgency," Anderson added. "There's more of a quiet confidence about it, sort of an anticipation. Everybody's excited in the locker room and I know the staff's really excited for this year."

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