DALLAS — If anyone still believed the Pelicans’ winning streak was all about Anthony Davis, the rest of the team offered a strong argument to the contrary Sunday night.
Oh, sure, the NBA MVP candidate was a force as always, posting an excellent line of 23 points, 13 rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals. But he wasn’t the biggest reason New Orleans stretched its run to eight consecutive victories by overpowering Dallas 126-109 at American Airlines Center.
No, the primary driver to success was — everyone else.
Guard Jrue Holiday went to the basket relentlessly, destroying Dennis Smith Jr. and every other Mavericks guard who tried to defend him on the way to 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting with seven assists and only one turnover.
Forward Nikola Mirotic finally displayed the 3-point touch that led the Pelicans to acquire him a month ago, drilling six of 11 shots beyond the line and finishing with 24 points.
Rajon Rondo just missed a triple-double with 14 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists — and one turnover. Cheick Diallo was all over the boards, leading the team with a season-high 15 rebounds to go with 13 points.
Even little-known and little-used guard Walter Lemon Jr., playing on a 10-day contract, contributed, flashing for a career-high six points in just five minutes to help spark a 33-16 surge beginning late in the first quarter that first broke the game open, turning a 19-17 lead into a 19-point advantage at 52-33 midway through the second.
“I think it’s just a lot of energy, some great energy here from everybody,” Holiday said. “I think everybody knows each other really well, we’re very comfortable and the ball has energy. We’re playing with pace.”
That pace has carried the Pelicans into fourth place in the tight Western Conference standings at 36-26, percentage points ahead of Minnesota and just a half-game behind third-place Portland.
While Davis’ performance didn’t match the historic dominance he’d shown in the previous seven games — during which he averaged 39.3 points, 15.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.7 blocks per game — the performance of the team around him illustrated why it has been so hot even without injured star DeMarcus Cousins, who was lost for the season Jan. 26 with an Achilles tendon injury.
“I think it took us a little while to get over the Cousins injury and him not being around,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “But then I think our guys kind of regrouped and they understand their roles are going to be redefined a little bit.”
Playing those roles, the Pelicans kept the lead in double digits most of the way — with the notable exception of a 14-0 Dallas surge powered by ageless future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki (23 points) that closed the margin to 91-87 with 10:30 left in the game.
But New Orleans quickly put out that fire with 10 unanswered points, then turned up the heat to win going away, as Rondo, Holiday and Mirotic took over the fourth quarter.
“Every time Rondo gets on the court, man, I’m taking off,” Holiday said. “I feel like he’s the reason why I got started today.
“He’s always pushing the pace. He’s kind of the head of the snake. He’s fast as hell. I can get a running start and just take off and him looking up for me has been awesome.”
While Davis has understandably dominated the headlines at the Pelicans heated up, the fact is, such performance by his supporting cast have been far from rare.
Holiday’s 30-point night, for example, was his seventh this season, and was his eight straight game with 20 or more. He’s averaging 25.9 points and 7.5 assists during the eight-game winning streak.
“I think people are starting to see what he’s doing just because of this win streak, but he’s been doing it his whole career,” Rondo said. “It’ll be fun to watch hopefully when we get in the playoffs. Then we can really put his talent on display.”
Mirotic, who hit just 27.8 percent of his 3-point shots in his 10 previous games with New Orleans, posted his 12th 20-point game of the season.
“They’ve been playing well through the stretch and making big plays,” Davis said of Holiday and Mirotic. “Jrue has been taking over games at points. Those two guys are playing out of their mind and are able to get us over the hump in some games.”