The New Orleans Pelicans have 12 games left to tweak the chemistry of their high-energy NBA experiment -- how best to twin Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins into an explosive tandem that recently has shown promising signs.
The Memphis Grizzlies (40-30) have 12 games left to make a final push for one of the Western Conference's top four playoff seeds, which would guarantee them home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The teams collide Tuesday night at the Smoothie King Center, and the interesting thing is that both clubs have their production arrows pointing straight north.
After going 2-6 in the first eight games in which Davis and Cousins teamed together, the Pelicans (29-41) have won four of their last five games and scored at least 120 points in four of five. In a 123-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night, Davis, Cousins and point guard Jrue Holiday combined for 27 of their team's 40 third-quarter points to blow open a close game.
There is no question Davis and Cousins are playing better together than they did in the first two weeks after the All-Star break trade. On consecutive possessions against Minnesota, Cousins got the ball in the high post, worked a pick-and-roll with Davis and then lofted a lob that Davis slammed home in the low post. The next time down the court, Cousins found forward Dante Cunningham alone and fed him with a bounce pass for a dunk.
New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said what he likes best lately is Holiday's more consistent playmaking and his willingness to keep looking for his shot. Holiday had 21 points and seven assists against Minnesota.
"I think Jrue's got the toughest job on our team," Gentry said Monday after practice. "He's caught between, do I get aggressive and when do I score and then, when do I get these other guys the ball? It is tough for him, but I want him to still think along the lines of being aggressive offensively."
Gentry admitted that the chemistry challenges immediately after the trade had to do with his stars trying to defer to each other. Certainly, the number of shots both Davis and Cousins attempt in a game has gone down, and they have tried to figure out an acceptable balance.
"It's taken a lot of pressure off (Davis) so that he feels like he doesn't have to do everything," Gentry said. "Then, adding DeMarcus to the mix, he's a guy used to having volume touches and volume shots.
"We've got to understand he's not going to get as many and AD is not going to get as many, but when we get other guys involved in the game, that's when we're really better as a team."
Shooting guard Jordan Crawford, acquired initially on a 10-day contract, has benefited the most, shooting 52 percent from 3-point range (14 of 27) in the last five games.
"They go in," Pelicans forward Solomon Hill said of Crawford's perimeter shots. "He has ultimate belief in himself."
After losing five straight, Memphis has reeled off four consecutive victories, including a 104-96 home win on Saturday over San Antonio. Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said although his team, currently seventh in the West, is 2 1/2 games behind Utah for the No. 4 playoff spot, he believes Memphis is still in the hunt for a home-court playoff series.
The Grizzlies will not be resting any players down the stretch. "We don't have the luxury to hold anything (back) now," Fizdale said after practice Monday. "We're fighting still for home court, and we haven't given up on that dream. I've got no hidden bullets in my holster. We're going to try to go forward and win every game."
The Grizzlies have turned to ageless wonder Vince Carter to take up some of the slack due to the knee injury that has bothered Chandler Parsons all year. Parsons underwent surgery on Monday to repair a partial tear in the medial meniscus in his left knee and will miss the rest of the season.
Carter, 40, had been coming off the bench but is now starting in his 19th NBA season. Carter credits his longevity to his basketball IQ and taking care of his body better than he ever has in his career.
"Old cars are great and you can keep them, but you've got to maintain them," he said. "The maintenance is tedious."
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