Orlando, Fla. — Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel said it best. The New Orleans Pelicans are an unconventional team.
So he tried matching the Pelicans’ giant combination of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins with his own big-man combination in Friday’s game at the Amway Center.
But Cousins and Davis are two of the best players in the game, and Vogel's gameplan was no match.
The Pelicans never trailed in the 111-97 win, bringing the team to .500 and snapping a two-game losing streak. Cousins led the Pelicans (16-16) with 26 points and 11 rebounds, followed by 24 points for Jrue Holiday and 20 points and 11 rebounds for Davis.
“I don’t think we’re a .500 team,” Cousins said. “I don’t think we’ve played to our highest level yet. We’re still figuring things out as a team.”
The Magic, who have lost seven straight and fell to 11-22, were without forward Aaron Gordon because of a calf injury. Vogel decided to start backup big man Marreese Speights alongside Nikola Vucevic. When Speights left the game for the first time with a few minutes left in the first quarter, with the Pelicans leading 25-15, he and Vucevic were both scoreless.
“I thought we played one of our better games as far as defensively and rebounding the basketball,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said after his team held the Magic to 42.4 percent shooting and 4 of 20 on 3-pointers.
On the other side, things went about as well for the Pelicans as they have in a while. The Pelicans shot 50 percent from the field and only turned the ball over 15 times. The team, ranked 28th in turnovers per game, had given the ball away at least 16 times in five of the last six games.
After a turnover on the first possession, the Pelicans didn’t give the ball away again in the opening period.
“I think we were up there in the twenties the last few games,” Davis said. “For us to limit our turnovers and have just one that first quarter allowed us a chance to get good shots.”
Taking care of the ball helped the Pelicans race to an early 8-2 lead, on the shoulders of two 3-pointers from Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore. The lead stretched to 32-20 by the end of the quarter. Cousins pushed the lead to 18, 38-20, in the second quarter with a drive and layup. That was a common sight when he got the ball at the top of the key and faced tight defense from one of Orlando’s overmatched big men.
“I think he’s very good at that,” Gentry said, “especially when we get the defense spread and then catch it and go. I thought his decision-making was great tonight, when to go and when to create shots for other guys.”
Even when Cousins wasn’t scoring, he was doing damage. A perfect example was the beginning of the fourth quarter, when the Pelicans essentially clinched the win despite Davis and Holiday resting. During one possession, Cousins passed up a contested shot near the rim to find a wide-open Jameer Nelson for a 3-pointer and 93-74 lead, the largest to that point. One play later, he found Darius Miller in the corner for a 96-76 cushion. His drive and pass to Darius Miller for another 3-pointer gave the Pelicans a 105-78 lead with 7:47 remaining.
“First and foremost, DeMarcus is a hell of a player,” Nelson said. “We need those things to ignite us, especially on the offensive end. He does a great job facilitating, scoring, and also setting screens. It’s obviously a big part of what we do and we feed off that.”