New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik had been practicing and playing preseason games with All-Star power forward Anthony Davis for less than a month.
However, in their first game that mattered, in the season-opener Tuesday against the Orlando Magic at the Smoothie King Center, the pair seemed to fit together very well. Although it came against Orlando, a rebuilding team with its starting power forward and shooting guard out and a rookie point guard, the play of Davis and Asik as a tandem proved to be a positive development.
“We just tried to play hard,” Asik said.
With Davis the long, quick, athletic one of the two and Asik the bigger and stronger one, they combined for 34 rebounds. Sixteen were offensive, and power forward Ryan Anderson also got seven.
Point guard Jrue Holiday said he’s seen players such as Houston center Dwight Howard and Orlando center Nikola Vucevic have games of 20-something rebounds, but rarely two big men dominate the boards the way Davis and Asik did Tuesday night.
Asik was straight-faced but seemed to make a joke about it in tempering the credit and praise thrown his and Davis’ way.
“We just tried to play hard, and we missed so many shots (shooting 40.6 percent), we just had to go get it,” he said. “But we made a lot of mistakes, and we have to practice and improve.”
Davis (nine) and Asik (five) combined for 14 of the Pelicans’ 17 blocked shots. However, Davis, saying he’s more effective when he’s all over the court, also had three steals.
“Omer is the reason I can play like that, out on the perimeter, making steals,” Davis said. “I know he’s back there having all of our backs, blocking shots. It’s going to be fun playing with him this season because we already see that he makes our defense that much better for all of us.”
Asik and Davis will step up in competition when the Pelicans (1-0) host the Dallas Mavericks (0-1) on Saturday at the Smoothie King in a Southwest Division game. The Mavericks feature power forward Dirk Nowitzki, who has 26,822 career points, and former New Orleans Hornet Tyson Chandler, like Asik is a shot-blocker who gets his points off offensive rebounds, in the pick-and-roll and on the fast break.
“They won a championship together (2011),” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “So they have something that a lot of big tandems don have: big-time experience, a defensive-minded big, and maybe one of the best power forwards ever to play the game.
“That’s a tough combination, so we have a lot to get ready for this week.”
Scoring mostly on put-backs and of teammate’s drives and passes, Asik had 14 points.
That and his acumen in the pick-and-roll, made the Pelicans want to drive more, said small forward Tyreke Evans, who had a team-high six assists.
“Coach talked about that (Tuesday) night: keep attacking because AD and Omer were cleaning up the glass.
“We did a lot of jump shooting at first, and then once we started attacking, that’s all I was looking to do.”
The 14 points were encouraging because Williams wants every player on the court to at least be a threat. Last season, when small forward Al-Farouq Aminu and center Greg Stiemsma were on the court, sometimes it was as if the Pelicans were playing four against five.
So Asik has been working with lead assistant coach Randy Ayers on improving as a low-post scoring option. That has the look of a continued work in progress.
“We always look for Omer, whether he’s diving on pick-and-rolls,” Williams said. “I’ve talked to the guys about throwing him the ball in the post. Sometimes, you can draw (plays) up, but a lot of our stuff just happens in the natural flow of the game. I think he’s more comfortable that way.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t call a play for him or draw some stuff up, but I think he’s more comfortable playing off guys.”
Point guard Jrue Holiday left Tuesday’s game with an abrasion over his right eye that required five stitches. He returned to the game, however, and practiced Wednesday. He’ll wear a band-aid over it in Saturday’s game. … With their next game coming Saturday, the Pelicans had a light day Wednesday. “I wanted the guys to smell the gym and get up a lot of shots,” Williams said. “We went through some execution stuff, spacing. We’re probably at a five when it comes to spacing the floor the way we need to every single time.” . . . Davis, Asik, Evans and small forward Darius Miller participated after practice in a “Pros vs. Joes” video game challenge against servicemen stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan.