The Pelicans (6-5) have won three straight with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins on the court together for the first time since acquiring Cousins at least season’s All-Star break following their 117-112 win at Indiana on Tuesday night.
Davis had 37 points and 14 rebounds while going 14 of 18 from the field, and Cousins had 32 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists. The pair combined to hit eight of the team’s 14 3-pointers as New Orleans have a chance to sweep their four-game road swing at it ends north of the border.
Both 7-footers have been impressive in wreaking havoc on this trip. Davis is averaging 28.0 points and 14.3 rebounds while shooting 64.8 percent, and Cousins has contributed 25.7 points, 15.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game while shooting a more pedestrian 42.6 percent since he’s made just 6 of 24 from 3-point range. The twin towers have also made the most of their trips to the foul line, combining to sink 38 of 46 free throws in the three wins.
Toronto (6-4) got back on track by beating Chicago for the second time this season, 119-114 on Tuesday night. DeMar DeRozan scored 24 points and Jonas Valanciunas added 21 and 10 rebounds as the Raptors shot a season-best 54.3 percent while making 13 of 25 from beyond the arc.
DeRozan is averaging a team-high 23.9 points, but scoring at a 29.0 per game clip in his last three contests. He’s also been making his way to the basket, sinking 28 of 30 from the line in that span and is attempting 8.9 foul shots per game.
Three keys to the game
Keep DeRozan out of the paint - One would think having a pair of 7-footers would contribute to a lights-out defensive team, but the Pelicans are exactly in the middle of the pack in giving up points in the paint at 42.7 per game. DeRozan has made a killing backing down opponents and slashing his way to the lane to get to the foul line, and the Raptors are fourth in the NBA offensively in paint points at 48.6 per game. E'Twaun Moore may need to lay off a half-step defensively but also keep in mind to prevent DeRozan from working his mid-range game on his favored right side.
Boogie on the pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop - There is rarely a go-between for Cousins in New Orleans' offensive sets, he is driving to the basket or taking a 3-pointer along the top of the arc. But he also relies on others to penetrate to get him those open looks from deep. Only two of his 22 3-pointers from 25 feet and out have been unassisted, so watch Valanciunas early. If the Raptors' big man gets caught in no-man's land between the foul line and the arc, Cousins will likely let fly.
Defensive closeouts - Almost everything defensively about New Orleans screams mediocre, but one reason they can win five straight road games for the first time since January 9-26, 2011, is they are contesting on the perimeter. The Pelicans are tenth overall in 3-point defensive shooting percentage (34.7), but they've limited opponents to 30 percent (36 for 120) from beyond the arc on this run. Take away Toronto's two wins over Chicago, and the Raptors are connecting on just 28.9 percent of their shots from deep, so if the Pelicans continue to extend their defense, good things should happen.
Matchup to watch
Anthony Davis vs Serge Ibaka - Either big-man matchup in this contest carries high appeal, but Davis is the more disciplined offensive player of the two as the go-to scorer, so watching him square off against Ibaka provides more intrigue. Davis' heat map is interesting viewing because he gets most of his touches in the low post on the left side working a high-low game with Cousins, who essentially is playing point center at the top of the key. It will be up to Ibaka to muscle Davis out of his comfort zone into mid-range shots. Davis has taken over 60 percent of his shots inside of 10 feet but is just 14 of 36 on shots from 10 to 19 feet.
New Orleans Pelicans projected starting lineup
PG - Jrue Holiday | SG - E'Twaun Moore | C - DeMarcus Cousins | SF - Dante Cunningham | PF - Anthony Davis
Toronto Raptors projected starting lineup
PG - Kyle Lowry | SG - DeMar DeRozan | C - Jonas Valanciunas | SF - Norman Powell | PF - Serge Ibaka
Curiously, Davis has struggled against the Pelicans in five lifetime meetings, averaging 14.2 points and 8.6 rebounds while shooting 40.3 percent and never beating them. Cousins has not, averaging 22.3 points and 10.8 rebounds while recording nine double-doubles in 13 games, including the last three.
Jrue Holiday may be a sleeper pick for daily fantasy as he's had a pair of 30-point games against Toronto among his last four matchups and has averaged 16.6 points and 6.6 assists while shooting 51.5 percent in 18 lifetime appearances.
Kyle Lowry has been a scorer and playmaker versus the Pelicans, averaging 18.8 points and 7.5 assists in his last eight games between the teams, while DeRozan has scored 18.1 points per game in 14 contests against them.
The Pelicans are just 3-11-1 against the spread in their last 15 games against the Raptors, but that's one of the few trends against them as they enter this contest as 4.5-point underdogs. New Orleans are 5-2 against the spread in their last seven games overall and play into a trend in which the underdog is 19-6-1 in the last 26 meetings. Toronto are 3-7-1 against the spread in their last 11 home games and 2-5-1 against the number against teams who have straight-up winning records. The over/under has dropped two points to 214.5 since opening, and the under feels like the better play here given New Orleans can shut down Toronto on the perimeter and slow this game down to let Davis and Cousins operate in half-court sets.
The Pelicans have created a 2010's version of "NBA Jam" with Davis and Cousins running riot. When one of them cools off offensively or needs to rest, the other picks up the slack. The Raptors have the size to counter them in Ibaka and Valanciunas, but whether the duo have the skill set to contain them is a whole other question. Conversely, the Raptors have the edge in backcourt play with DeRozan and Lowry, but Lowry may be more pivotal to Toronto's success since right now the Pelicans could let DeRozan "get his" in terms of points and try to shut everyone else down. This matchup favors the Pelicans, and look for them to complete an impressive sweep of this road trip with a 103-95 victory.
This game will be televised locally on SportsNet One and Fox Sports New Orleans. Tip-off time is 7:30 pm ET.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?