New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik has gotten by with a little help from his friends of late, and he has returned the favor.
Continued offensive contributions by Asik likely would be a big plus as the Pelicans (37-30) head into a difficult and important three-game road trip that begins Thursday at the Phoenix Suns (35-33).
On Friday, the Pelicans face the Golden State Warriors, who have the best record in the NBA, and on Sunday will meet the Los Angeles Clippers, who are fifth in the Western Conference. Winning at least one of the games appears necessary for New Orleans to keep pace with Oklahoma City in the battle for the eighth and final playoff spot. The teams were tied going into Wednesday’s games.
In the Pelicans’ grind-it-out win against Milwaukee on Tuesday, Asik had 16 points and 11 rebounds. Not a center with a lot of low-post scoring ability, he scores on pick-and-rolls, by exploiting opponents’ double teams of teammates and on put-backs.
“It makes him another threat,” power forward Anthony Davis said. “We try to find him as much as possible, especially when the guards drive to the basket.
“He did a great job of finishing and had a great game offensively and defensively. We’re going to need that from him.”
On a night in which the Pelicans shot 34.9 percent against intense, physical defense, Asik made 6 of 8 shots, including three three-point plays. The last one came with 3:58 left and pushed the Pelicans’ lead to 78-72.
And, he contributed four offensive rebounds, that coming after he had eight among his 13 rebounds in the Pelicans’ gut-wrenching double-overtime home loss to Denver on Sunday.
In the past three games, Asik has had a double-double in each and averaged 12.7 points on 66.7 percent shooting (16-of-24), along with 13.0 rebounds, including 5.0 offensive, as the Pelicans went 2-1.
“He makes a major impact for us defensively,” said shooting guard Eric Gordon, who assisted on four of Asik’s baskets, including two three-point plays. “When he makes an impact on offense, he gives us another gear.”
That will be needed on this trip and with the remaining 15 games carrying a lot of significance as the Pelicans try to grab the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2011.
The Suns are 2½ games behind the Pelicans in 10th place, and the teams play again April 10 at the Smoothie King Center. New Orleans won the first meeting on Dec. 30 at Smoothie King. For Phoenix, winning the only home game in the season’s series is paramount. The Suns swept the Pelicans last season.
“They’re a tough team, a lot of weapons, (and) they added (point guard) Brandon Knight,” Davis said of the Suns, who are third in the NBA in bench scoring at 40.8 points per game. “It’s going to be tough, especially in Phoenix. We have to go up there and start the road trip off right.”
Next up will Golden State, which is 30-2 at home going into Wednesday’s showdown against Atlanta, the East’s top team. The Warriors have beaten the Pelicans nine consecutive times, including twice this season.
The Clippers are trying to climb from the fifth playoff spot to fourth, where it would have home-court advantage. The Pelicans are 1-1 against them this season.
Asik had a three-game stretch earlier in which he averaged 13.7 points and 11.0 rebounds as the Pelicans went on a five-game winning streak from Feb. 21 to March 1 with Davis out.
He could have more opportunity to consistently aid the scoring cause. The Bucks, intent on slowing Davis after he scored 43 points on 17-of-23 scoring in the March 9 win in Milwaukee, often double-teamed him during Tuesday’s game to force him to pass. The Bucks also brought another defender to stop the drives of point guard Tyreke Evans and at times double-teamed Gordon, 6-3, on the perimeter with a taller player to try to force turnovers.
In a league that quickly imitates strategic success, that won’t be the last time the Pelicans see that. That is particularly with regard to Davis, their leading scorer (24.6) and whose field goal percentage is 54.2 percent.
Davis fell hard midway of the fourth quarter against Milwaukee and grabbed his right groin. After the game, he said he was OK. It seemed a concern because Davis missed the home game on Jan. 30 against the Clippers after his left adductor, or groin, was strained in the previous game two days earlier vs. Denver. “It feels good. I’m ready to play against Phoenix,” Davis said after Tuesday’s game. A Pelicans spokesman said Wednesday before boarding the flight to Phoenix that Davis was OK and won’t be listed on the injury report.