OKLAHOMA CITY — When he first set foot in Chesapeake Energy Arena, Anthony Davis flashed back to 2015.
He thought about his 3-pointer that February, a game-winner that beat the Thunder and proved pivotal in a playoff race that led Davis to his first and only NBA playoffs.
He’s hungry for another, which is why even as the Pelicans forward looked back, he was glad to see his franchise facing forward Thursday, when it acquired forward Nikola Mirotic in a trade with the Chicago Bulls, bolstering a frontcourt still reeling from a season-ending injury to DeMarcus Cousins.
“When you lose a guy like DeMarcus, it’s tough on our team, but we have to keep going,” Davis said at Friday’s shootaround. “And I think the organization went out right away and tried to do something about it, knowing the position that we were in — that we are in, sitting at No. 7 (in the Western Conference standings) now. We want to make sure that we don’t drop. We want to make sure that we keep moving forward and keep progressing as a team.”
Adding Mirotic, who’s expected to make his debut Saturday at Minnesota, can’t hurt.
In his fourth NBA season, the 6-foot-10 power forward is having his best season yet, averaging career highs in points (16.8), rebounds (6.4) and assists (1.6) and shooting a career-best 42.9 percent from 3-point range on 6.4 attempts per game.
“He’s been really good shooting the basketball,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Shoots a high percentage from (3-point territory). I think he can even be better at that. Obviously if you’re playing with AD, he’s gonna open up some shots for you, because he gets double-teamed and triple-teamed sometimes, so that’s another good thing.”
Mirotic isn’t a replacement for Cousins. There isn’t a man on the market who could substitute for his 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game.
But he’s scorer and solid rebounder who provides the Pelicans some perimeter punch to add to sharpshooters E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller.
And he signals New Orleans’ commitment to remaining in the playoff picture even with Cousins sidelined for the season by a ruptured left Achilles tendon.
The Pelicans were aggressive in their pursuit of center Greg Monroe — a Gretna native and former Helen Cox High School star — after he reached a buyout agreement with the Phoenix Suns. Monroe agreed to terms on a deal with the Boston Celtics on Friday, ESPN reported.
The team might not be finished making moves, but Mirotic is a big one.
“He’s going to be a great addition to our team,” said guard Rajon Rondo, who played with Mirotic last season in Chicago. “He was a great teammate of mine last year, great guy in the locker room, and he’s going to play to win.”
Mirotic’s familiarity with Rondo “helps some,” Gentry said, as the Pelicans try to fit him into the current roster.
“I think it also helps that we play a similar style that he’s accustomed to,” Gentry said. “They get up and down the court in Chicago. They play with spread lineups. They try to shoot 3-point shots. So it’s very similar to what we’ll try to do.”
The Bulls, however, aren’t trying to make a playoff push.
The Pelicans, as the Mirotic move makes clear, are all in, even without Cousins.
“It takes a little while to adjust (to losing Cousins), and I think we’re over the initial shock now,” Gentry said. “I thought the last two games we played — we started out great in the Clipper game, but I still think there was some residue left over from losing a guy of that magnitude. But I think as we begin to play and understand that we’ve got over 30 games left, guys will refocus and then get to the point where we’re gonna start to play well again.”