Reserves make big impact in New Orleans sweep of road back-to-back
CHICAGO – Three weeks into the regular season, Anthony Davis has registered at least 25 points and 10 rebounds in seven of the eight full games he’s played. In eight of his 10 outings, DeMarcus Cousins has notched a 20-10 performance, highlighted by a 20-22 at Dallas. New Orleans’ All-Star duo has proven to be consistently productive early in 2017-18, but the Pelicans’ biggest X-factor in an effort to return to the postseason may be the effectiveness of their role players. Case in point: A rare sweep of a road back-to-back this weekend in Dallas and Chicago.
In the club’s first such 2-0 sweep since winning at Milwaukee and Brooklyn on consecutive nights in March 2015, reserves Darius Miller, Jameer Nelson and Tony Allen provided timely contributions. As a result, New Orleans emerged with five- and six-point wins over the Mavericks and Bulls that were far from aesthetically pleasing, but nonetheless moved New Orleans (5-5) to .500 in a tightly-packed Western Conference.
“It’s a good feeling. We didn’t win in the fashion that we wanted to, but a win is a win,” Cousins said of low-scoring, 99-94 and 96-90 margins. “It’s hard to win on the road in the NBA.”
After going 13-28 in away games last season, New Orleans is 4-2 on the road, halfway through a current four-game trek that continues this week at Indiana and Toronto. Here’s a closer look at the impact of Miller, Nelson and Allen on the team’s encouraging start away from Louisiana in 2017-18:
Perhaps the most valuable skill Miller will bring to the Pelicans this season is spot-up perimeter shooting, but the Kentucky product began the campaign just 2/15 from beyond the arc. He sank more three-pointers than that in both games of the weekend back-to-back, going 3/5 at Dallas and 3/6 in Chicago. On Saturday against the Bulls, Davis was seemingly the only player for either team having a decent shooting night until Miller scorerd 11 key second-half points, instrumental in New Orleans erasing a nine-point deficit.
“D Mill was ready to go when his name was called upon,” Cousins credited. “He hasn’t been playing significant minutes that he would like to play (previously), but he came in and made huge shots for us and gave us great minutes.”
“We need him to come in and play big, step up and make shots,” Davis said. “Hopefully it carries over for the rest of this road trip.”
While Cousins and Davis praised Miller, the forward and fellow Kentucky product credited the All-Star tandem for making his job easier.
“(Davis and Cousins) demand a lot of attention,” Miller said. “I got a lot of open shots, the same shots I’ve been getting all season. I feel like I’m finally getting into a rhythm and able to knock them down.”
During his stint with the Denver Nuggets, the veteran guard enjoyed several outstanding games in the Smoothie King Center, but in a small sample size so far this season with the Pelicans, he’s been great on the road but struggling at home. Nelson is shooting 45.5 percent from three-point range in five away games (he’s 1/6 at home), including nailing a key trey in the fourth quarter and OT at Chicago. He also connected on a series of important threes in October wins at the Lakers and Sacramento.
“Ever since he got here, he’s been playing well, taking big shots and making big shots,” Davis said.
“Jameer being the veteran, savvy guy that he is, he came in and made big plays,” Cousins said after Saturday’s win, which was essentially settled when Nelson drained a right-wing trey to give NOLA an eight-point lead in the final minute of OT.
The “Grindfather” has seen his role steadily increase over the past two weeks, logging double-digit minutes in six of the last seven games. Prior to Saturday’s win in his hometown, Allen had averaged 9.7 points over a three-game span, shooting 13/23 from the field, but he’s also delivered his trademark hustling, grimy brand of basketball to the second unit.
“His stats have been really good, but you can never judge Tony by his stats, the impact he has on the game or how he contributes,” Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry said before Saturday’s game at the United Center. “I’ve been real pleased with the energy he’s brought and the defense he’s played. Offensively, he’s been really good also.”