Any time Anthony Davis retreats to the bench, the New Orleans Pelicans find themselves in a critical situation.
Ever since DeMarcus Cousins tore his Achilles tendon in January, every minute Davis rests is one Pelicans’ opponents are pining for. And at the onset of a rare stretch featuring three games in three nights, there are bound to be more minutes than usual without Davis on the floor.
On Sunday, the Pelicans showed that a drop-off without Davis doesn’t have to be the case. They flourished when the MVP candidate grabbed a second-half breather, powering an emphatic 108-89 blowout over the Boston Celtics in the Smoothie King Center.
Over a nearly six-minute span, New Orleans went on a 14-7 run and grew its lead to 11 points, allowing Davis to serve as a punctuation mark rather than the subject of the sentence. It was a far cry from the previous two weeks, when the Pelicans were outscored by 6.2 points per game in the limited time Davis was off the floor.
Instead, Cheick Diallo and Nikola Mirotic combined for 33 points and 16 rebounds off the bench, helping spark New Orleans’ typically undermanned second unit, outscoring Boston’s bench 44-30. It was an unexpected asset in a critical victory and emblematic of the versatility the Pelicans will require in their final 12 regular-season games.
The Pelicans rank 26th in bench scoring, leaving most of their offense to Jrue Holiday, Davis and the rest of the starters. But when needed, Sunday proved there’s an extra gear available.
“It’s really big,” Holiday said. “I feel like we’ve done this a long time where people just seem to step up. So when people get the chance to play, they stay ready and they come out and produce.”
The Pelicans bench might never be more important than this week, starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday against the Dallas Mavericks.
A night later, the Indiana Pacers come to town, making up the February game postponed because of a Smoothie King Center roof leak. On Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers arrive to complete the most compact homestand in modern NBA history.
Sunday provided a nice assist, a lopsided win allowing coach Alvin Gentry to limit Davis' and Holiday’s workloads.
“It was really good, with Jrue only played 29 minutes and I only played 33,” Davis said. “So that was big for us with the stretch we are about to go into, where we might have to play 40 some nights. It was good to play under our normal minutes and have a day to get some rest and treatment and get ready for a big week.”
Gentry still isn’t certain exactly how he’ll handle the upcoming back-to-back-to-back. He potentially could sit both players for an entire game and take a loss, or curtail minutes in each game.
“We’ll have to see, and I don’t say that in an evasive kind of way,” Gentry said. “We have to see how it goes. There may be situations where, depending on how the game is going, we may rest him within the game. We just have to figure it out.”
Other measures are being taken as well, including an off day on Monday and no morning shoot-arounds each of the next three days. The Pelicans will hold only evening walkthroughs three hours before tipoff in an attempt to squeeze in some extra sleep.
“We have to play the games that are on the schedule,” Gentry said. “It’s not some impossible thing. We have to play three games, and that’s part of making one up we didn’t play. That’s just it. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, and we’ll be able to manage it and play and do the best we can with it.”