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Pelicans bolster lineup before meeting with Thunder

By
Ryan Aber, The Sports Xchange
Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans face off with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday. Photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI
Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans face off with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday. Photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI | License Photo

OKLAHOMA CITY -- When DeMarcus Cousins' season ended with a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the final seconds of the New Orleans Pelicans' Jan. 26 victory over the Houston Rockets, their chances of making the playoffs for the first time in three seasons appeared over.

But the Pelicans made a move to preserve their relevance -- and keep financial flexibility in their pursuit of Cousins in free agency -- Thursday, the day before going on the road to face the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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New Orleans acquired forward Nikola Mirotic and a second-round pick from the Chicago Bulls for high-priced center Omer Asik and guards Jameer Nelson and Tony Allen as well as a first-round pick.

Mirotic is a similar player to Cousins -- a big man with 3-point range. In 25 games since returning from two broken bones in his face from a fight with Bulls teammate Bobby Portis, Mirotic is averaging 16.8 points and 6.4 rebounds. Both would be career highs if he continues that level of production.

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The Pelicans might not be done as they try to stay in the playoff picture in the aftermath of the season-ending injury to DeMarcus Cousins.

New Orleans is reportedly making a strong push for veteran big man Greg Monroe.

Monroe recently was bought out by the Phoenix Suns and the possibility of significant playing time for his hometown team looms.

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He would give the Pelicans another piece to replace Cousins' rebounding abilities.

New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry wouldn't talk about Monroe specifically but said improved rebounding was going to have to be a team-wide focus after the Pelicans were outrebounded by 13 in Tuesday's loss to Sacramento.

"It's not going to be one guy that's going to step in and get the almost 13 rebounds a game that DeMarcus got for us," Gentry said. "But I think we can have our guards and our perimeter players are going to have to get in the fight ... and help A.D. (Anthony Davis) and the bigs with some rebounding."

While New Orleans made its move Thursday, Oklahoma City is still trying to grasp the fallout of losing a key piece of its own.

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Thursday night in Denver, the Thunder lost for the second consecutive game to go to 1-2 since defensive stopper Andre Roberson was lost for the season to a ruptured patellar tendon.

While their defense improved in the fourth quarter of that game before Gary Harris' 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Nuggets a 127-124 victory, Oklahoma City allowed 72 first-half points.

"We didn't do a good enough job, just running back in transition, closing out to them, closing out short and not running them off the line," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "Then we didn't really control where the ball went in the first half."

Rookie guard Terrance Ferguson had replaced Roberson in the starting lineup but left Thursday's game after just more than four minutes on the floor because of illness. His status for Friday's game is unclear.

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