Still Alive In Playoff Race, Nuggets face Pelicans in New Orleans

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NEW ORLEANS – The Anthony Davis- DeMarcus Cousins pairing isn’t new; they’ve been teammates since the trade deadline – but it will be new to the Nuggets.

They haven’t seen the two on the court together since Cousins came to the Pelicans in a trade with Sacramento on Feb. 20. When the Pelicans visited the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on Mar. 26, Cousins was out with an injured ankle. Well, now he’s back, and the Nuggets have to figure out defending both of them.

“It’s a challenge,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “To be quite honest, I still think they are trying to figure out how to play them together. They’ve had some of their best moments when one guy has been out or one guy has been off the court.”

Malone’s last thought is the extra layer of concern. The duo will start the game together, but Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry could always have a lineup where at least one of the two is on the court. That would mean no rest for the weary for Nuggets bigs, who would be facing at least one of them during the entire game.

New Orleans lost its last game, 117-110 to the Bulls on Sunday. The Cousins-Davis duo combined for 56 points and 29 rebounds in that game. Cousins, who had 26 points that night, has historically been a big thorn in the Nuggets’ side.

“He’s really hurt us,” Malone said. “He’s dominated us, so we’ll have to give our big guys help at times, give them different looks, get aggressive, try to get the ball out of their hands. When you do that, you open up other things, but hopefully we have enough multiple efforts in us to be aggressive, double-team at times and then still close out to their shooters.”

The last time the Nuggets and Pelicans met, Davis got a big hand from many players around him. Jrue Holiday, Donatas Motiejunas and Jordan Crawford all had 13 points apiece. E’Twuan Moore had 12 points and Tim Frazier had 11 points and eight assists. The Nuggets know they cannot give up that kind of production to the supporting cast around Davis and Cousins and expect to win.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets enter the game with a renewed sense of hope for a playoff spot. Portland’s loss to Minnesota on Monday night closed their lead for the eighth spot in the Western Conference to just a game-and-a-half. The Blazers have another tough game Tuesday night, at Utah. So a Nuggets win combined with a Portland loss would bring the Nuggets back to a half-game behind for the No. 8 seed. Remember, the Nuggets need to finish with an outright better record than Portland to claim the spot due to the fact that the Blazers own the tiebreaker.

“We’ve stayed motivated,” Malone said. “We’ve been playing decent basketball, and then obviously we got the win in Miami. Guys are still motivated. With Minnesota beating Portland last night I’m sure that kind of gives guys a little more added belief. But we just have to do what we can do, control what we can control. If we come out here and lay another egg, it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. We have to win.”

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