We’re not sure what the New Orleans Pelicans are fighting for, beside the obvious. What we do know is that, despite what could have been an anonymous late-season run for the postseason hopeful, the team will make things worth following.
Recently-acquired star DeMarcus Cousins mostly sat down the stretch of Saturday’s impressive Pelicans road win over the Charlotte Hornets, in favor of stretch big forward Dante Cunningham. Working on his birthday, longtime Pelican Anthony Davis dominated the late stages as the new 24-year old pushed ahead for 46 points, 21 rebounds, three assists and zero turnovers against a smallish-yet-game Hornets team that entered the night ranked ninth in the NBA defensively.
The stalwart big man and All-Star Game MVP went off in the 125-122 overtime win, making 18-31 from the floor alongside 4-5 from long range:
It was that All-Star Game, and weekend, that may have led to Davis being paired with Cousins in the first place: Sacramento general manager Vlade Divac reportedly felt a need to encourage engagement with the host franchise above all available else. Cousins has struggled within both team and personal ranks since moving to NOLA, though.
The Pelicans have eagerly warmed to his presence, but the win over Charlotte left the team at 3-6 with Boogie since the deal, the Pelicans have won just once with DeMarcus in the lineup (against cellar-dwelling Los Angeles) and Cousins was nowhere to be seen in the Pelicans lineup down the stretch of late regulation and overtime play:
DeMarcus Cousins checked out with 9:25 remaining. Has 5 fouls.
So much for Boogie and AD trying to figure it out together.
— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) March 12, 2017
Cousins was hampered with foul trouble throughout the game while working against Charlotte’s less-sizable lineup. After dealing two centers at the trade deadline, and with starter Frank Kaminsky and big man Miles Plumlee on the bench due to injury concerns, the Hornets had to go small with Marvin Williams and Nicolas Batum acting as the big forwards alongside pivotman Cody Zeller (who played nearly 40 minutes in the loss).
New Orleans prevailed, but Cousins was out of sorts: 11 points on 4-11 shooting, six turnovers, five fouls, four rebounds and four assists in nearly 26 minutes of play. Cousins has missed 32 of 49 shots over his last three games with his new team, good for a 34.6 mark from the floor. The Pelicans were up 86-81 when he left the contest, as Charlotte made an expected run while on its home floor late in the fourth quarter.
Davis’ stats haven’t suffered as terribly per Cousins’ presence, but it is also worth noting that the Pelicans have struggled considerably with DeMarcus on the team in comparison to the team’s relative ease in which it played mediocre ball against a tough schedule prior to the transaction.
It wasn’t even a given that Anthony Davis would be able to play on his birthday night, as the forward/center had to leave Wednesday’s contest against the Raptors due to a bruised right wrist, yet returned to play with full blessings after the MRI results turned up negative.
Davis, following his big night, stayed grinning:
“Just wanted to go out there and compete to the highest level and just tried to lead the team to a victory,” Davis said of his late-game mindset. “I was able to do that tonight. Other guys stepped up and made big plays as well. But down the stretch, I was just trying to help the team win.”
“It’s Coach’s decision,” Davis said. “All that matters is that we won. All that other stuff, it doesn’t matter. No one cares about that. We’re just trying to get wins. Whatever it takes.”
When asked about pairing Cousins with Davis on the floor, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said: “What we need is time to make it work.”
”I thought the movement he had and the spacing he created is the way he got most of his shots,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters after the game. ”He was very good creating and going quickly and not giving them an opportunity to double him. When he does that and gets into space and he’s feeling good about his shot.”
Ah, yeah. Spacing. It’s of paramount importance when you’re, as Gentry says, trying to “make it work.” Kind of hard with another shot-happy center rolling around the pain, especially one as lumbering as Cousins.
As noted above, the Pelicans likely expected the dogged Hornets to make their charge late on Saturday night, which likely led to the coaching staff going with the familiar. Coach Alvin Gentry could have moved to start the overtime period with Cousins back in the lineup and Zeller out for Charlotte to jump tip. He could have gone to him during any number of late game substation opportunities in the final minutes. He could have gone to him with two minutes to go and New Orleans needing a basket following the timeout, with Charlotte having cut the New Orleans lead to 107-103.
Instead of entering Cousins during that stop, though, New Orleans spread the floor and worked up a three-point make for Anthony Davis while Boogie watched from the bench. The Pelicans needed to rely on what they knew down the stretch of a needed win on Saturday, and though Alvin Gentry’s time with the club hasn’t exactly been decorated, and some point even Dante Cunningham seems far more certain than DeMarcus Cousins.
As has been Cousins’ burden for years, but never has his locker room worry mixed as potently with on-court issues. It’s barely known if big-men based squads can lead teams to championships in 2016-17. Adding a superstar two-man duo to the mix only clouds the sight of the goalposts.
The night began with the Pelicans in desperate straits, looking to make the postseason for the first time in Cousins’ career and the second time in what has been Davis’ already-long, five-year career in New Orleans. It did well to keep its hopes alive, the team is now 4 1/2 games out of the final spot in the West with the win over Charlotte, and it isn’t as if this site hasn’t already begged for some clear directives from the Pelicans and coach Gentry moving forward.
The problem will remain where the coaching staff left it: New Orleans has played terrible basketball, thus far, with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis on the court at the same time. The team hadn’t played since Wednesday and won’t again until Tuesday, an NBA eternity this time of year, but that spate of practice time will hardly feel like enough.
Despite the win, it’s worth wondering if the Pelicans actually accomplished anything in victory. You can’t blame Alvin Gentry for attempting to try and have both ways, though.
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New Orleans wins a big one with Anthony Davis going off, and DeMarcus Cousins on the bench – Yahoo Sports