The New Orleans Pelicans, winners of four of their last five games to improve to 7-6, are garnering attention across the league with the eye-popping numbers posted by Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.
The Atlanta Hawks, at 2-11, have the worst record in the NBA but have been playing opponents closer of late.
Despite committing turnovers at a rate usually reserved for the digital clock in Times Square that tracks the national debt, the Pelicans are the clear favorites entering Monday night's game at the Smoothie King Center.
The two biggest reasons are Davis and Cousins, who have been playing so well in their high-post, move-without-the-ball experiment that opposing defenses are struggling to keep up. In a 111-103 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night, the Twin Towers combined for 60 points on 23-of-38 shooting, 25 rebounds and 10 assists, which was more than enough to overcome a season-high 23 turnovers and the 51 total points the Pelicans allowed off turnovers and offensive rebounds.
Davis, in particular, was a force on both ends. In addition to scoring 25 points and grabbing 10 boards, he shadowed Clippers forward Blake Griffin for 40 minutes and hounded him into a 9-of-27 shooting night without committing a foul.
Still, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is legitimately concerned about the sloppy ball-handling that could stunt the progress New Orleans has made in its first 13 games. The Pelicans are averaging 16.7 turnovers a game -- sixth worst in the league. Cousins, who often initiates the offense from the high post, is a willing passer but has sometimes tried to do too much, resulting in a league-high 68 turnovers.
"We're going to have to do something about our turnovers," Gentry said after the win over the Clippers. "That's really just the only thing that is hurting us. I think the offensive rebounding thing we've taken care of. The only thing left for us to do is make sure we're not turning the ball over, because 23 turnovers and 33 points (off them) is way too many."
To their credit, both Cousins and guard Jrue Holiday, who committed seven turnovers against the Clippers, recognize they have to bear down in protecting the ball.
"I'm the main culprit of the turnovers right now," Cousins said.
When Holiday disagreed and said he was to blame, Cousins turned to the stat sheet that showed he had eight turnovers against L.A.
"I just have to do a better job of taking care of the ball and making better decisions," Cousins said. "Luckily the turnovers didn't affect us today because we were able to pull out the win, but this just can't be a continuous habit because it can rear up later on."
The Pelicans should get a boost in efficiency when point guard Rajon Rondo, sidelined since the beginning of the season due to surgery on a core muscle, returns to the lineup, possibly as early as Friday night at Denver. Rondo's presence would take some of the ball-handling responsibilities away from Holiday and Cousins.
The Hawks are playing short-handed and did not have Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Muscala, DeAndre Bembry and Miles Plumlee available in a 113-94 road loss to Washington. They will need more consistent play from point guard Dennis Schroder, who went 2 of 16 from the field against the Wizards.
The Hawks also have let frustrations boil over onto the court. A critical play in the loss to Washington came when Taurean Prince complained to officials that he was fouled on a layup attempt, allowing an easy 3-pointer on the other end and then committing a technical foul. A seven-point deficit ballooned to 11 late in the third quarter.
"We've got to do a better job of keeping our emotions, and everything, our frustrations in check," Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said.
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