As former University of Kentucky stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins hoisted up extra shots near one another after practice, Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry stood in a far corner of the club’s practice gym, trying to explain why New Orleans hasn’t won in three games since the All-Star big men became teammates.
“We have to become more consistent, and the only way you can become more consistent, I think, is that you’ve got to consistently have the same people out there so that you’re learning the ins and outs of a system and learning the ins and outs of each other,” Gentry said Monday.
“I do feel good about the progress we’ve made the last three games, and I think we’re just going to continue to get better,” Gentry added. “Unfortunately for us, we’ve got to do it on the fly. That’s really tough to do in some situations.”
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The trade that brought in Cousins last week sent three guards — Tyreke Evans, Buddy Hield and Langston Galloway — to the Kings. New Orleans then added two free agent guards — Hollis Thompson and Jarrett Jack — to the regular rotation in the past week.
“We’ve just got to stay with it,” Pelicans forward Solomon Hill said. “Minutes change for people, and we have new roles that we have to learn.”
That seems to be the case for everyone but Davis and Cousins. Davis has averaged 35.3 points and 10 rebounds in the past three games. Cousins has averaged 23.3 points and 13 rebounds despite being limited to less than 30 minutes per game by foul trouble. During a loss at Oklahoma City on Sunday night, Cousins had 31 points and 10 rebounds in only 21 minutes before fouling out.
However, Gentry has noticed instances when Davis and Cousins might be trying too hard to defer to one another.
“They are producing in the team concept, but unfortunately right now, after three games, they’re much better when one or the other one is off the court,” Gentry said. “We have to find a way to make that work when both of them are on the court.”
That might not be an issue on Wednesday night, when Cousins is expected to serve a one-game suspension for receiving his 18th technical foul this season Sunday night in Oklahoma City. He’ll only play if the league rescinds that technical on appeal from the club.
Cousins’ arrival also seems to have affected point guard Jrue Holiday’s game in unexpected ways. Holiday averaged 21.4 points and eight assists in the 10 games before the trade. Since, he has averaged 10 points, six assists and 5.3 turnovers.
Davis said part of Holiday’s problem is that “he’s looking to be a pass-first point guard.”
“We don’t need him to come out and try to be a guy who’s getting 15 assists. That’s not who he is,” Davis said. “He’s a great scorer and a great defender. … When you’ve got two guys that you want to give them the ball as much as possible, you just overthink a lot.”
Holiday said he appreciates the advice but added that it’s hard to ignore the temptation to pass to Davis or Cousins when “they’re so dominant in the paint.”
“We’re trying to figure something out that’s new to us and trying to get as good at it as possible as quick as we can,” Holiday said.
The Pelicans often don’t practice the day after ending a road trip, but Gentry decided to bring them in on Monday and instead give them off on Tuesday, which is Mardi Gras, a state holiday in Louisiana. Davis and Cousins were invited to ride in the historic Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club parade — the same one in which Louis Armstrong rode in 1949.
Gentry thought it was important to encourage participation in Mardi Gras, suggesting that those who’ve never experienced it in person don’t have “any idea of the magnitude of what it means to the city and what it means to the people.”
Perhaps the chance to celebrate Mardi Gras like a local will inspire the Pelicans to make Lent, which starts Wednesday, more festive than usual for area basketball fans.