Pelicans survive Nuggets in OT without Davis
NEW ORLEANS — DeMarcus Cousins often feels he is misunderstood, trapped inside an off-Broadway, Shakespearean drama in which he is forced to protest the slings and arrows of outrageously bad acting as another of his opponents hits the deck from what he insists is a phantom collision with his chest or elbows.
But Cousins made one thing clear from center stage in the New Orleans Pelicans’ 123-114 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night at the Smoothie King Center: Not many big men — or two or three — can stop him when he gets rolling, especially when they fall to the floor.
“Just the antics ... it’s silly, man, just let me live, that’s all I’m asking,” Cousins said, referring to an apparent late-game flop by Denver center Mason Plumlee, who crumpled to the floor even though it looked as though the closest Cousins’ arm got to his face was to create a gust of wind.
“Let me be a basketball player. All this trying to villainize me and the way it’s going, I hate it. It’s overdue. Just let me be a basketball player.”
Cousins is that. In his second-best performance of the season, Cousins, playing with frontcourt mate Anthony Davis, dominated the Nuggets’ big men with 40 points and 22 rebounds, just shy of a 41-point, 23-rebound effort he had earlier this season in a road game against his former team, the Sacramento Kings.
Cousins was so dominant he drew 11 fouls against the Denver frontcourt — six against Plumlee and five against power forward Kenneth Faried — as the Pelicans continued to pound the ball into him near the basket.
“He’s very capable of that,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “It’s not like the only 40-point games he’s had have been here. He’s done it in other venues, too, and he’s just a really gifted player who can do a lot of things. He forces teams to make decisions on if you’re going to double-team him or play one-on-one and try to take away the other guys. He’s very willing to be a passer in those situations, also.”
The Pelicans (13-12) also got 27 points and seven assists from Jrue Holiday, who is settling into his role as an off guard while Rajon Rondo — 11 points and seven assists — has assumed point guard duties.
Holiday had 19 of his 27 points in the first half as the Pelicans took a 67-66 lead.
The Pelicans outscored the Nuggets 56-48 in the second half, with Cousins scoring 22 points. They held Denver to 35.6 percent shooting in the second half.
Gary Harris had a team-high 24 points for the Nuggets, but only six points came after intermission.
The Nuggets are 13-11 overall — 10-2 at home but just 3-9 on the road, something that infuriates coach Mike Malone.
“They kicked our —-,” Malone said. “It’s becoming the same story every single night. Until our guys start taking it personally, until our guys start understating the importance of playing defense and guarding your man one-on-one, forget playoffs.
“That is a word we should not use for this team unless there is — talk about real honest — we are a bad basketball team on the road. We are a very good team at home. Unfortunately, in the NBA you have to play 41 games on the road and right now we are a bad road team.”
Cousins continued to attack the basket in the third quarter, scoring 13 points as the Pelicans widened their lead to 97-91. New Orleans put the game away with a 13-0 run in a three-minute span of the fourth quarter to take a 114-96 lead with 6:38 left.
NOTES: New Orleans F Anthony Davis’ left adductor strain has improved, but he missed his third consecutive game. Coach Alvin Gentry said he wants to see Davis do a little more in practice before he returns. ... Pelicans PG Rajon Rondo is averaging at least 11 points, 10 assists and six rebounds in December. “He’s very good at finding open players,” Gentry said. “He’s very good at taking advantage of players’ strengths. I think if you asked Jrue (Holiday) or anybody that plays with him, they’ll tell you that he makes the game easier for them.” ... The Nuggets were without C Nikola Jokic (left ankle) and F Paul Millsap (left wrist surgery). Coach Michael Malone said Millsap’s hand is in a hard cast, but he expects him back working out with the team soon. “He’s definitely getting better,” he said. “We’re hoping against hope that maybe by the end of this (six-game road) trip he can help out on the floor.”