Since DeMarcus Cousins went down for the season with a ruptured left Achilles tendon, the New Orleans Pelicans have needed everything Anthony Davis can give them to stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff race. The former No. 1 overall pick has responded by giving them … well … everything.
After logging a team-high 43 minutes on Sunday in an overtime win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Wisconsin, Davis had to get back after it again on Monday back at home against the Phoenix Suns. On paper, a matchup with the Suns — who entered the evening at 18-43, dead last in the Western Conference, riding a nine-game losing streak — seemed like a recipe for an easy win in which New Orleans could limit its top guns’ minutes after a taxing road win the night before. In practice, though, the back end of a back-to-back is never easy, especially not when you’ve got to deal with an opponent with young legs led by a top-flight scorer like Suns guard Devin Booker.
The Pelicans trailed by 10 after the first quarter, by 16 midway through the second, and by seven at halftime. They looked sluggish in initiating offense and lagged badly defensively, as Booker (27 points in 19 first-half minutes) torched them again and again. With the rest of the team combining for just 33 points on 13-for-33 shooting in the first half, it became clear that New Orleans would need another monster close from Davis to avoid a dispiriting loss against a bad team.
But after working OT in Milwaukee on Sunday — plus 41 in a win over the Miami Heat on Friday — did Davis have enough in the tank to propel the Pels past the finish line once again?
Yes. Yes, he did.
Davis followed up his 25-point first half by authoring an even more dominant second half, pouring in 28 in the third and fourth quarters. He bulldozed reedy bigs Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss in the half court, and went up over the top of Alex Len in transition and on the offensive glass. (Bender, Chriss and Len all fouled out trying, unsuccessfully, to handle Davis.)
He ran the floor hard off to get deep post position and create open lanes for lob passes, and made it count by throwing it down at the rim or getting himself to the free-throw line, finishing 21-for-26 from the stripe on the evening. He drove to the cup when it was available, then stepped back to take advantage of Phoenix’s bigs playing him for the drive and wetted the deep 2-pointers that he drills at a 40 percent clip.
Davis had absolutely everything working on Monday, and he deployed the full arsenal on the Suns. The All-Star big man finished with a season-high 53 points on 16-for-29 shooting to go with 18 rebounds, five blocked shots, three assists and a steal in 39 earth-shattering minutes to lift the Pelicans to a 125-116 win. The only other players in the NBA record books to put up 50-15-5 were a pair of Hall of Famers: Bob McAdoo and Wilt Chamberlain. Decent company.
AD’s latest monster game pushed New Orleans’ winning streak to six games, the franchise’s longest since they were known as the Hornets back in 2011, and added a new high point to the hellacious run he’s been on. Since Cousins went down on Jan. 26, Davis has averaged 33.9 points on 50 percent shooting, 13.2 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 2.4 steals and 2.3 assists per game, doing everything he can to fill the void left by Boogie’s injury.
During the Pelicans’ win streak, Davis’ production has been even more insane: 41.5 points on 54.2 percent shooting, 39.1 percent from 3-point land on nearly four attempts per game, 82.2 percent shooting on more than 12 free-throw tries a night, 14.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, 3.2 steals and two assists a contest. This was Davis’ fifth 40-point, 10-rebound game in the month of February alone. (He’s also mixed in a 38-and-9 and a 38-and-10, just to keep things spicy.)
“When [Cousins] goes down, it goes back to A.D. before DeMarcus,” Davis recently told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. “A lot of minutes. Weight of the world on your shoulders. You know, you’ve got to carry the team on your back. You’ve got to almost get 40 every night to give us a chance to win. And it’s back to that.”
The #Pelicans are averaging 127.8 points per game during their current 6 game winning streak.
Without DeMarcus Cousins.
— Mason Ginsberg (@MasonGinsberg) February 27, 2018
A month ago, the Pelicans looked like they might be dead. Now, they’re within a game and a half of the West’s No. 3 seed.
Anthony Davis on #Pelicans focus to move even further up West standings from currently fifth: “That’s what we’re thinking about. That’s how we’re playing. We’re not worrying about anything else. We’re taking it a game at a time, and just trying to make our way up the ladder.”
— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) February 27, 2018
I don’t want to give short shrift to the teammates who’ve shown out alongside him — Jrue Holiday, in particular, is on a wild run, averaging 25.3 points, 8.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game during the streak — but, I mean, Davis essentially is the Pelicans right now. And it’s working, somehow, because Anthony Davis has the capacity to be an almost unbelievable generator of quality possessions on one end and an ultimate nullifier of them on the other. His impact is total when it needs to be and when he wants it to be, and those are both happening all the time, now, because there’s no Plan B in New Orleans.
“You kind of have to have that Russell Westbrook mentality, you know, when [Kevin Durant] went out,” Davis told Nichols. “[…] Man, Russ just went out there and played. Shot 40 shots sometimes. Whatever it takes to help your team win. I’m kind of taking that approach.”
What makes this so freaking special, though, is that AD’s taking that Russ mentality and filtering it through the lens of a game that smacks of prime Dream:
The result: an undeniable surge toward the forefront of the NBA world’s consciousness and, if he can keep this up, into the top tier of Most Valuable Player candidates, rubbing elbows with Houston Rockets superstar James Harden.
Keeping it up, though, is an awfully tall task. It’s only natural to wonder how long Davis can shoulder this load. He’s averaging a career-high 36.7 minutes per game this season, 38 in the 12 since Cousins’ injury, and 40.5 during the six-game winning streak. Those are frightening numbers for a player with Davis’ injury history, and for a New Orleans side that just saw Cousins succumb to an Achilles tear after perhaps the most taxing stretch of his career.
The Pelicans have an off day Tuesday before finishing out February with a visit to the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, followed by three full days of rest ahead of a Sunday meeting with the Dallas Mavericks. It would seem to behoove Alvin Gentry and company to get Davis as much rest, relaxation and treatment as possible in that span ahead of a two-week stretch that includes a pair of matchups with the West-leading Rockets, plus another date with the Spurs and games against the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics.
After Monday’s game, though, Davis insisted during an on-court interview that he feels good, and that any fatigue he might feel has been mitigated by the energizing effect of seeing teammates like Holiday, new addition Nikola Mirotic, point guard Rajon Rondo and feel-good-story-of-the-year Emeka Okafor rise to meet his level.
“You know, it was tough when Boogie first went down,” Davis said. “We was trying to get it in our head that he’s not with us anymore. But we put it aside and just went out there and just kept playing. That’s all we can do. We’ve just got to keep playing and, for our team, we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. When we play with this effort, we can beat anybody.”
Well, yeah. Of course they can. They have Anthony Davis. When he stays on the court and commands it like this, just about anything feels possible for these Pelicans — even on the second night of a back-to-back, after traveling overnight from Milwaukee to New Orleans, fresh off an overtime.
“I feel good,” Davis said after the game through a sarcastic smile. “I might go get a lift in right now.”
Sure. Because, y’know, he hasn’t been carrying enough of a load these days.
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