DENVER – For the first time all season Friday, New Orleans will play a game that has no playoff-race implications for the Pelicans (33-45). But that doesn’t mean it’s an inconsequential contest for the visitors at Denver’s Pepsi Center. With four games remaining in the 2016-17 regular season, there are still a few things to watch for as the club wraps up the 15th campaign in franchise history. Here are some of them:
Boogie and the Brow reduced minutes
They’ve only been teammates since Feb. 23 and their stints on the floor are sometimes staggered, partly in order to always have one of them in the game, but Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins have logged a total of 394 minutes together. If you combine the post-trade and post-All-Star break averages of the pair of Western Conference All-Stars, they add up to 53.2 points (Davis 28.7), 24.2 rebounds (Cousins 12.5), 2.9 blocks (Davis 1.6), to go with 48.4 percent shooting from the field, including 35.9 percent from three-point range.
“I think we can see that DeMarcus and AD can coexist and be fine together,” Alvin Gentry said after the duo combined for 71 points in Tuesday’s high-scoring loss to Denver. “You put them in a training camp and are able to really hone in on what you want to do, they can play together and be very effective.”
With the Pelicans out of the mix for the postseason and the duo meshing nicely recently, Gentry will not overextend either player from here. Cousins is deemed questionable for Friday’s game at Denver due to an Achilles issue; Davis may not play both games of the two remaining back-to-backs.
“We’re not going to play (Davis) 40 minutes in the first game, and then a bunch of minutes in the second game,” Gentry said after Thursday’s practice in Metairie. “I don’t see how that would benefit him at all. If we play him in the first game and he gets into the 30s (minutes-wise), we probably won’t even play him in the second game.”
Gentry on Cousins’ Achilles soreness: “We’ve got to be cautious with it. (On Friday before the game at Denver) we’ll go over it again and see where he is with it. There really is no reason, if he has any problems at all, to risk him playing.”
Gentry mentioned that the road trip may be a chance to add to the NBA experience of rookie and second-round pick Cheick Diallo, who has totaled 104 minutes in his pro debut season, but has played significantly in the D-League.
“I’d like to take a look at Quinn Cook, and see if we can find some minutes for Cheick and have him play some time,” Gentry said.
Based on Omer Asik and Quincy Pondexter being out for the season, the Pelicans have a maximum of 12 players available, but if Cousins and Davis potentially sit parts of the trip, it shouldn’t be difficult to get everyone in a New Orleans uniform some playing time.
Finishing strong on the road
No statistic better represents New Orleans’ late-season improvement away from home than the Pelicans winning the same amount of road games between Feb. 10 and March 26 (6-6 in that span) as they did from Oct. 29 through Feb. 4 (6-18). New Orleans still needs to make notable strides next season on the road to put itself in better position to return to the playoffs, but after going 9-32 there in 2015-16 and the aforementioned 6-18 start to this season, the Pelicans hope to continue making progress on this trip. The last time they made the playoffs in 2014-15, they went 17-24 on the road (the most by a New Orleans squad since 18 in 2010-11, also a playoff season).
A chance to play eighth-place spoiler
New Orleans no longer has a shot at qualifying for the NBA postseason, but still can play a role in affecting which team finishes eighth in the West and secures a Round 1 matchup vs. juggernaut Golden State (65-14). Entering Thursday, Portland (38-40) owns a one-game edge on ninth-place Denver (37-41), a lead that is essentially two games due to the Trail Blazers having secured the tiebreaking advantage. Portland’s magic number is just 3 and could be sliced further Friday if New Orleans is able to win at Denver for the second time in 12 days. However, if the Nuggets manage to stay alive until the final night of the regular season, Game 82 for the Pelicans will be a very intriguing one, as they visit the Trail Blazers on Wednesday (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. Central).
Although it won’t have any major implications in the standings, Saturday’s visit to Golden State has been targeted by the Warriors as a return from injury for All-Star forward Kevin Durant.