Lots of Anthony Davis, no DeMarcus Cousins in New Orleans Pelicans' win at Denver

By Brent W. New, The Sports Xchange  |  March 27, 2017 at 10:51 AM
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DENVER -- New Orleans All-Star Anthony Davis left a lasting mark on the Denver Nuggets and the Western Conference playoff race through three quarters on Sunday night. Then, he took a seat in the fourth.

Might as well enjoy the rest now -- the Pelicans aren't throwing in the towel on the playoffs quite yet.

Davis scored 31 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in only 28 minutes to lead the Pelicans to a 115-90 victory over the Nuggets.

The Nuggets (35-38) fell into a tie for the eighth spot with the Portland Trail Blazers, who posted a 97-81 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in a later game on Sunday. The Pelicans (31-42) within four games of Denver and Portland (35-38).

"Anything can happen," said Davis, who pointed to the 2015 season when New Orleans beat the San Antonio Spurs in the last game of the season to ensure a postseason berth. "We're going to keep playing until the end. Whatever happens, happens."

Jrue Holiday and Jordan Crawford each scored 13 points, and the bench contributed 49 as the Pelicans earned their sixth win in eight games. Their defense was key, holding the Nuggets under 100 points for the first time in a month.

"We knew that the last five games they're averaging 70 points in the first half so we had to cut that down," said New Orleans center Alexis Ajinca, who came off the bench to provide suffocating interior defense. "And we did that."

The Pelicans won without DeMarcus Cousins, who sat out due to an ankle injury. Cousins got hurt Friday during New Orleans' 117-107 loss to the Houston Rockets and was still sore at the Sunday morning shootaround.

New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said he won't rush Cousins back, even with the postseason gap narrowed.

"It's a medical thing, and we're not going to jeopardize anything," said Gentry, whose team travels to Utah on Monday. "If he's ready to play, if he feels that he's capable from a health standpoint, we'll play him."

Mason Plumlee had 16 points and Gary Harris and Jamal Murray each added 13 for the Nuggets, who shot 37.9 percent from the field. Nikola Jokic, who came into the game shooting 50 percent or better in his previous 11 games, had eight points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field. He also pulled down 13 rebounds.

"It was an awful effort but this is not who we've been, which gives me hope that we can turn the page and get back to being who we've been lately," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "We've been a very good team lately, one of the best teams in the NBA. But tonight, obviously, for whatever reason, we just did not have that competitive fight, the energy, the sense of urgency that you really need to have right now.

"We just did not show up like a team intent on making the playoffs."

The Nuggets can reclaim the last playoff spot Tuesday in Portland as they begin a five-game road trip.

"It's going to be fun," Denver veteran guard Jameer Nelson said of it. "Obviously it's going to be a playoff atmosphere. It's going to be a fun game and we'll see what happens."

Denver led 26-18 with 2:59 left in the first quarter as Jokic had the team's first six points and Danilo Gallinari added a quick seven, which included a four-point play at the expense of Davis. But the Pelicans closed the quarter on an 11-0 run as Davis gave New Orleans a 29-26 lead with a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The Pelicans' lead ballooned to 55-40 at the half with 18 points from Davis and 17 from the bench. E'Twaun Moore hit a 14-foot fadeaway jumper over Darrell Arthur's extended reach as time expired in the third quarter to extend the lead to 87-59. The Pelicans coasted from there.

"We started the game and we had like three or four mistakes but after that I thought we locked in and from a game plan standpoint, I thought we were great," Gentry said. "We did a really good job moving the basketball. But the defense won the game, let's tell it like it is. We were great defensively."

NOTES: Pelicans F Anthony Davis posted his 45th double-double of the season. He has 81 points and 30 rebounds in two games against the Nuggets this season. ... The Nuggets and Pelicans will meet two more times in the next 12 days -- on April 4 in New Orleans and April 7 in Denver. ... New Orleans F Dante Cunningham started in place of DeMarcus Cousins (ankle) and finished with six points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes.

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