Keys to the Game: Bulls at Pelicans (04.02.17)
NEW ORLEANS -- The level of emotion is not exactly the same as DeMarcus Cousins experienced in playing his first game against the franchise that traded him away, but for New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, Sunday's game against the Chicago Bulls in the Smoothie King Center hits close to home.
Davis, a native of Chicago, is riding high, and so are the Pelicans. In routing the Sacramento Kings 117-89 on Friday night behind Cousins' game-high 37 points, Davis chipped in with 19 points and 12 rebounds as the Pelicans (33-43) won for the eighth time in their last 11 games. New Orleans has won its last six home games.
"We want to get that win," Davis said of the Bulls' game. "It's definitely a different type of emotion than DeMarcus felt, but we always try to win against our hometown teams."
After beating Atlanta 106-104 Saturday, the Bulls have won three straight and four of their last five and improved their record to 37-39, good enough for seventh place in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. Although the Bulls have the same record as the Heat and the Pacers -- who are eighth and ninth, respectively - Chicago holds the tiebreaker edge over both.
The Bulls rallied from a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit with less than five minutes left Saturday to beat Atlanta. They did it because of the heroics of Jimmy Butler, who scored 25 of his game-high 33 points in the second half. Butler also scored Chicago's final nine points, including the decisive free throws with 2.1 seconds left. Point guard Rajon Rondo added a season-high 25 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
Butler played 42 minutes on the first game of a back-to-back, but he isn't complaining.
"I wouldn't say that's what I'm asked to do, but that's what I want to do,'' Butler said. "(Coach) Fred (Hoiberg) was like, 'Hey Jimmy, you tired?' I was like, 'No. I want to play, I want to be the reason that we win.' So he was looking out for me, telling me we had another one tomorrow."
The Bulls defeated the Pelicans 107-99 on Jan. 14, their fifth consecutive victory over New Orleans. Davis scored a game-high 36 points and had 14 rebounds, two assists, one steal and three blocks, but no other Pelicans players scored more than 16 points. Butler led the Bulls with 28 points.
In two games against the Bulls as Sacramento's center, Cousins averaged 30.0 points, 14.0 rebounds and 4.0 steals, but the Kings lost both games.
The Bulls have beaten the Pelicans five consecutive times, but this is the first time they will face the Davis-Cousins tandem. A victory would give the Bulls a season sweep of New Orleans for the third straight season. Chicago is 9-7 in the second game of back-to-backs this season.
The Pelicans have a remote shot at the playoffs. Getting the eighth seed in the Western Conference probably would require them to win their final six games, the last four of which are on the road. They sit in the 10th spot, five games behind No. 8 Portland (38-38) and 2 1/2 games behind No. 9 Denver (35-40).
The Pelicans will close their home schedule Tuesday night against Denver and then play the Nuggets on Friday in Denver. They close the season April 12 in Portland.
New Orleans' recent surge has come on the strength of Cousins and Davis playing off each other much more comfortably than they did in their first eight games together, which resulted in six losses. They are 8-3 since then.
New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said both Davis and Cousins have watched each other play and are feeding off defenses that can't double-team them both.
"I always watch him -- the way he battles for position, handles the ball, everything," Davis said of Cousins. "Now that we're on the same team, we just try to take bits and pieces of each other's game and try to add it to ours and make us even more effective. He's a great player and can do a lot of things on the floor. I just try to learn from him."
"It's great," Cousins said. "I think I'm in a special situation to be able to learn from my partner in crime and vice versa. I don't think there's a lot of guys who can actually do that."
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