This is the power of a second superstar.
Playing without All-NBA forward Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans were still able to post a comfortable 123-114 win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night at the Smoothie King Center, thanks to a supernatural output from fellow All-Star DeMarcus Cousins.
On a night when the scorer’s table had to work in overdrive to keep up with the endless barrage of baskets at both ends of the floor, Cousins stood above all others.
The big man poured in 40 points, grabbed 22 rebounds, dished four assists and blocks four shots, thoroughly controlling the second half and turning a back-and-forth affair into a walkaway win.
Ultimately, the Pelicans finished the track meet far ahead, thanks to Cousins and his cohorts, who overcome an occasionally shaky defense to post an important win.
The gaudy stat lines were in line with the game’s pace.
Not only did Cousins dominate the paint, Jrue Holiday chipped in 27 and seven assists despite sitting most of the fourth quarter. They were aided by point guard Rajon Rondo, who cranked up the Pelicans’ tempo and was on pace to piece together a triple-double until he took a seat for the majority of the fourth as well.
While grand takeaways from this win can be debated — the Pelicans played without Davis, while the Nuggets scratched Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap because of injury — the results count all the same.
It’s these nights, against these types of opponents, when the Pelicans can shed their reputation as a playoff outsider and back up their billing as true postseason contenders.
Home games provide an advantage the Pelicans have failed to capitalize on much this season. New Orleans improved to just 6-6 in the Smoothie King Center but beat a contemporary in a crowded race in the heart of the Western Conference standings.
Wednesday's game proved to be an especially impressive bounce-back, considering these same Nuggets set the Pelicans’ franchise record for opponent scoring in a 146-114 thumping in Denver on Nov. 17.
New Orleans fell behind 24-14 in the opening eight minutes, while the Nuggets ran to the arc to find wide open 3-pointers. But even though Denver converted 7-of-10 3s in the opening quarter, New Orleans erased the double-digit gap in a hurry, thanks to Holiday’s 12-point outburst in the period.
Both teams exchanged offensive punches throughout the first half, each shooting better than 50 percent from the floor in a contest that resembled a playground pickup game at the playground as much as it did an NBA competition.
New Orleans held a 67-66 advantage at intermission — a lead seemingly built on just having the ball closest to the buzzer rather than because of a defensive stops.
By the end of the third quarter, the Pelicans inched ahead again as Cousins started to pick up steam. He didn’t slow down entering the fourth. With nine minutes remaining, Cousins had helped draw five fouls each on Nuggets big men Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee, ensuring neither could slow him down on drives to the rim.
New Orleans extended the lead to as many as 20 points midway through the quarter, as the Nuggets cleared the end of their bench in the final three minutes, allowing them to chip away against the lead.