Sometimes, a player’s value can rise just by sitting on the bench.
It’s been a common thread in each of the New Orleans Pelicans' past two victories. In both wins, a starter declined to re-enter the game late in the fourth quarter, allowing a surging Pelicans lineup to crest in the final minutes.
In Sunday’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers, it was DeMarcus Cousins who told coach Alvin Gentry he was better served leaving Dante Cunningham on the floor, helping the Pelicans maintain momentum in the franchise’s most productive fourth quarter ever.
Point guard Rajon Rondo followed suit on Wednesday, allowing Jameer Nelson to finish off the Milwaukee Bucks. Nelson nabbed a crucial steal in the final minute before assisting Cousins on his dagger 3-pointer.
“When those kinds of things are happening, you know guys value the team more than they think about themselves as individuals,” Gentry said. “So, I think that’s good.”
The lineup not only pulled the Pelicans back from a six-point deficit, but it also closed out a crucial home victory and sent a wave of optimism through their locker room.
“It’s about winning,” Cousins said. “That’s one thing I appreciate about this team is we play for one another. It’s about the win at the end of the night. It’s not about numbers. I think every guy in this locker room at one point in their career has gotten numbers. Right now, it’s about winning and trying to take that next step as a team. And that’s what it’s really about.”
It’s a trait Gentry pointed to as a bellwether of success. Not only does it display unselfishness with regards to staying off of the floor, but it also illustrates a trust in teammates to make plays.
The Sacramento loss is still bugging New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry.
The selflessness has translated into other facets as well. New Orleans dished out 35 assists on 45 baskets to beat the Bucks, extending a trend of increased ball movement that has vaulted the Pelicans into one of the league’s most explosive offenses.
New Orleans ranks second in the league in assists, averaging 26.7 per game, trailing just the Golden State Warriors. And those numbers are being generated from nearly every spot on the floor.
Only Rondo ranks among the league’s top 20 in assists per game, but Nelson, Cousins and Jrue Holiday are all among the top 45. The Pelicans lead the NBA by a wide margin in both shooting categories this month, converting 53.1 percent from the field and 46.9 percent from 3-point range.
“I just think we are very unselfish,” Gentry said. “We move the basketball, and we’ve been able to get good shots. Like I said, I thought we were doing that early in the year and we weren’t making them. And now, we’re just kind of locked in and we’re starting to make the shots.”
It goes hand-in-hand with starters sacrificing crunch-time minutes in pursuit of winning.
“Anytime we got it going, guys are holding themselves out because they don’t want to mess up that rhythm,” Anthony Davis said. “Like I said, the other night was Cousins and this time it was Rondo. So guys are unselfish, and guys just want to win. Whoever we have in the game when we’re rolling, we just want to stick with that unit and just continue to make stops and plays on the offensive end.”
In order to turn the selflessness into success in the standings, the Pelicans will need to find a way to string their momentum together for more than one night at a time.
New Orleans has alternated wins and losses throughout December, flipping back-and-forth over the previous eight games. They’ll aim to end that trend at 8 p.m. Friday, when they face the Nuggets in the Pepsi Center in Denver.
“I’d like for us to put together a streak of wins,” Gentry said. “But we are playing hard and we are competing, and that’s the main thing.”