INDIANAPOLIS – Shootaround was optional for players on Tuesday morning at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, but the friendly competition was mandatory.
Roughly eight hours before New Orleans tipped off against Indiana, Pelicans perennial All-Star bigs Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins engaged in a three-point shooting contest, with both men trading long-distance swishes and good-natured jawing on the Pacers’ home floor (Cousins appeared to emerge as the unofficial winner). The extra work paid dividends for both men later that evening, as the duo combined for 69 points vs. Indiana and shot a scorching 60.5 percent (26 of 43) from the field in a 117-112, come-from-behind victory. For good measure, they knocked down a total of four treys apiece, with Davis tying his career single-game high in that category. During a momentum-turning third quarter, the pair’s offensive exploits included 27 points – outscoring the Pacers 27-19 by themselves in that period – and five three-point makes.
Led by the dominant play of what Indiana’s Nate McMillan described Tuesday as a frontcourt of “Twin Towers,” New Orleans has gone 3-0 on a four-game road trip that concludes Thursday at Toronto. Though they’re still receiving questions related to whether they can play together effectively, Davis and Cousins are both piling up historic numbers, in a fashion that hasn’t been seen from a two-man NBA pairing in recent memory.
Davis is averaging 31.3 points and 14.3 rebounds in the three straight wins, while Cousins’ averages are 25.7 points and 15.3 boards. On Tuesday against the Pacers, both players posted at least 32 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two blocks, the first time any Indiana opponent had authored that stat line since Karl Malone did so in 2002. Keep in mind, both Davis and Cousins did it in the same game.
“I mean, we’ve been doing this almost all season,” said Davis, when asked by an Indiana reporter if Tuesday’s performance was a good omen for Davis’ partnership with Cousins.
Indeed, Davis has notched a 20-10 in every full game he’s played this fall. Cousins also has been exceptionally consistent, tallying at least 20 points in all but one game and grabbing 10-plus boards in all but one game (he had nine rebounds vs. Minnesota on Nov. 1). Cousins – who only played in 17 games with Davis last season following a February trade from Sacramento – believes the offseason was instrumental in the players forming a better understanding of each other’s on-court traits.
“Everything we had to do a year ago was on the fly,” Cousins said after his 32-point, 13-rebound night in Indiana. “(This summer) we actually had a chance to work out together, learn each other’s games. I mean, there is a difference between playing against a guy and playing with him, obviously. It took a little time to build the chemistry, but we’ve learned each other on the court, a lot better than we did previously. We’re just starting to click.”
As a result, the Pelicans have a chance Thursday to win a fourth game on the same road trip for only the second time in team history (the 2007-08 club went 5-1 on a six-game trip). Cousins believes he and Davis are still only in the early stages of fulfilling their potential as a partnership. They may not always combine for 69 points, 27 rebounds and 10 assists – as they did against the Pacers – but lately they’re finding a multitude of ways to carry the Pelicans to wins. New Orleans is now 5-2 on the road this season, after not securing its fifth road win last season until Jan. 9.
“I believe we’re two guys that bring it every night. We just try to find ways to help our team win games,” Cousins said of basing success on team results, not individual numbers. “There may be nights where we aren’t scoring the ball well, or rebounding the ball well, and we’ll just try to be defensive anchors most of that night. I think our talent is different than a lot of big guys. There are so many ways we can dominate a game. I think we’re just scratching the surface right now. I think we can get so much better.”