Davis, Pelicans soar into All-Star Break by thumping Lakers

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NEW ORLEANS — While Anthony Davis was putting up great numbers following the loss of DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury, the New Orleans Pelicans weren’t putting many numbers in the win column.

The Pelicans went 1-5 in their first six games without Cousins, and Davis heard and felt the criticism that team wouldn’t be able to hold onto a playoff berth without the other twin tower.

It was Cousins himself who reached out to AD to help set the Pelicans’ franchise player straight.

“I was trying to kind of do what DeMarcus did,” said Davis after the Pels defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 139-117 to take a three-game winning streak into the All-Star break. “(Cousins) called me and said, ‘What are you doing? Man, you just need to go out there and be you.’ (The team) just needs me to take over.”

Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday echoed those thoughts. “AD just needs to score,” said Holiday, who finished the game with 24 points and 11 assists of his own. “Put the basketball in the basket. It’s that easy.”

Davis did take over Wednesday night’s game with a nearly perfect performance, with 42 points and 15 rebounds. It has his fifth 40-point game of the season, second only to Houston’s James Harden. All five of those games have come since mid-January. AD made 10 of his first 11 shots and finished 15-of-18 for the game.

He did most of his damage in the first half, scoring 31 points in less than 19 minutes. He also set the tone for the Pelicans defensively, swatting shots and altering others with his presence. It was certainly one of Davis’ most complete games of the season.

“I was just being aggressive,” Davis added, “just going out there and trying to do whatever I could to make the team win. Of course I know we are on a good little roll right now. Everybody is feeling a lot of confidence, but most importantly we wanted to make sure that we ended on a good note going into the All-Star break.”

Nikola Mirotic (16 pts, 7 rebs) hasn’t been with the Pelicans long, but has quickly discovered just how unique a talent Davis is and how unstoppable he can be.

“I’ve played with a lot of great guys, guys who can score like 20, 30, but Anthony is a different level,” Mirotic said. “There is no way somebody can guard him because he can do everything: popping, going to the basket, face-up, low post…It’s just amazing.”

Davis is amazing, and he has been throughout his career. The question about AD has always been whether his individual talents would bring New Orleans team success.

Bringing in Cousins upped the talent level on the Pelicans, as the duo were selected as All-Star starters, making them the first teammates in New Orleans history to earn that distinction. The wins were coming too, with the Pels six games over .500 when Cousins went down.

It seemed almost easier for Davis, the less outgoing member of the “Fire and Ice” tandem, to let Cousins take center stage.

In some regards, the Cousins injury could end up being beneficial to the Pelicans. No longer able to share the mantle of leadership, Anthony Davis is again the epicenter of the New Orleans basketball universe. With the spotlight back on him, Davis is being given another opportunity to prove that he is more than a great talent, but that he is a leader and a winner.

With 35 games left to play in the regular season, the Pelicans may not need 40-plus points from AD every night, but they do need him to set the tone on both ends of the floor. The schedule gets harder, and the pressure only gets higher during the post-All-Star stretch run.

OTHER THOUGHTS

The Pelicans go into the break tied for the eighth playoff spot out West, hanging on to slim leads over the surging Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. While the playoffs are in no way assured at this point, there remain a number of encouraging signs.

Currently, the Pelicans are just one of three teams in the Western Conference (Golden State and Houston) with winning records both at home and on the road. Jrue Holiday has been on an offensive tear as of late, scoring at least 20 points in 11 of his last 16 games.

Nikola Mirotic has acclimated himself to New Orleans rather quickly. In six games with the Pelicans, he’s averaging 15.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per contest and has proven to be a solid defender in the post and out on the perimeter.

The bench, while still thin, is contributing regularly. For the season, the Pelicans rank 28th in the NBA in bench scoring (25.6 ppg); but over the last five games, New Orleans is 12th in the league with an average of 36.2 points. Darius Miller (9.8), Ian Clark (8.2), Chieck Diallo (6.6), and DeAndre Liggins (1.8) have combined for 26.4 points per night over that stretch.

And the mercurial Rajon Rondo has taken it up a level. Even after being tossed early in Wednesday’s win, the Pelicans’ point guard is averaging 12 points and 8.8 assists in 27 minutes per game over his last five. Rondo is dishing out nearly four assists per turnover and ranks fourth on the team in rebounds (5.0) as well.

The Pelicans also continue to await the return of Solomon Hill from injury. Hill has been expected to play after the break, but there has been no recent update of his status.

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David Grubb

David Grubb

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…

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