The New Orleans Pelicans are living up to their hashtag.
That is to say, they’re revealing why the team’s mantra is “Do It Big.”
The combination of Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle slammed, shot and shook their way around the versatile Denver Nuggets on Saturday night, en route to a 125-115 victory.
It was the Pelicans’ fourth win in their past five games, putting the preceding six-game losing streak into the rear view and climbing two games over .500 for the first time this month.
They’ll put the streak on the line against another Western Conference playoff hopeful on Monday night, facing the San Antonio Spurs at 7 p.m. in the Smoothie King Center.
“When everybody’s got it going, especially me, Julius and Niko, we’re a tough team to beat,” Davis said.
The Nuggets can attest.
Though Davis earned most of the headlines, cracking the 40-point plateau on consecutive nights this weekend, the MVP candidate claimed he’s at his best when the rest of the frontcourt triumvirate joins the stat sheet with him.
It was beneficial on Saturday, when the trio combined for 81 points and 28 rebounds, taking advantage of the post and the perimeter to keep Denver off balance. And they were instrumental in compiling 23 second-chance points, while also triggering many of the Pelicans’ 20 fast-break points.
It was a combination too much for almost any opponent to handle.
“We need our starters to rebound the basketball and — you give up 23 second-chance points and then you get 20 fast-break points, that’s 43 points off of solely hustle, effort, getting back, finding the body, giving them one shot,” Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone said. “We didn’t have that tonight. They did.”
It was a signal of what’s possible when the Pelicans not only run them in pairs, but utilize Davis, Mirotic and Randle simultaneously. And the opportunity to play the three-big lineup is more common while Elfrid Payton recovers from a broken finger.
It slides Jrue Holiday into the point guard spot and adds another option for coach Alvin Gentry to use the unorthodox look.
“We just try to play off each other,” Davis said. "Julius talks to me a lot during the game. I just try and tell him where I want him to be if I got the ball, and then Niko, we always know we got an outlet to him. He’s going to shoot it 10 times out of 10. He’s not going to pass it so, I think that’s where a lot of my assists come from.
“I just throw it to Niko and I know he is going to put it up, but we are just trying to play together. Of course we are still trying to experiment with that big lineup and it’s been working for us as of late.”
The sample size is still small, but the three big men have played together for 21 total minutes this season.
In that limited time, New Orleans has outscored opponents by 15.4 points per 100 possessions. It’s the Pelicans’ seventh-best net rating among any three-man combination with at least 20 minutes together.
And each has said they’re getting more comfortable with it every time it’s used. In three minutes on Saturday, the Pelicans outscored Denver 9-5 late in the third quarter.
Regardless of whether it’s two or three of those bigs sharing the court, their diverse skill sets have allowed the Pelicans to continue playing fast and find open 3-pointers, while maintaining an edge in the paint and on the glass.
It’s a rare combination, but when it comes into fruition, New Orleans has shown being balanced has nothing to do with size.
“I think it’s pretty difficult (to defend) really,” Holiday said. “That’s kind of how it was in the first four games where they just kind of took over. They run point. They get to the free throw line. They get all the assists.
“They do the guard’s job, really. So we are just out there for support.”