One person isn’t going to replace DeMarcus Cousins.
The All-Star center’s production and gravitational force in the New Orleans Pelicans’ rotation needs to be pieced together by a combination of players, new and returning, to keep the Pelicans afloat.
Monday’s walkaway 118-103 win over the Detroit Pistons provided the blueprint.
Not only did Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday boost their prolific statistical outputs, they were joined by newcomers Nikola Mirotic and Emeka Okafor, helping produce one of the Pelicans’ most complete wins of the season.
It was a signal that if the alchemy comes together, this roster, even without Cousins, is capable of making a push toward the playoffs.
“It’s just going to take a while, because he was such a big part of everything that we did,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “So we have guys who are trying to adjust to new roles, really. You just can’t do that in one or two games, you really can’t.
“I think they wanted to, and we have played some good halves, but it takes a little while to find yourselves. I think we’ve done a good job of figuring things out and the last two games, we have played solid basketball.”
On the heels of their first consecutive wins without Cousins, the Pelicans attempt to carry a winning streak into the nine-day All-Star break, hosting the Los Angeles Lakers at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Smoothie King Center.
It’s the type of momentum New Orleans believes can be catalyst for the finishing stretch of the season, hoping to at least maintain their No. 8 spot in the Western Conference and potentially improve it.
“It’s definitely important, especially headed into All-Star. We want to make sure that we finish it strong and take that break and then come back right,” Davis said. “We are fighting for a playoff spot with five of six other teams, so it’s important we come out here and play every game like it’s our last.”
And Monday’s win showed how to do it.
While Davis’ 38 points grabbed headlines, Mirotic’s movement off of the bench provided the real separation. The forward, acquired from Chicago in a trade for Omer Asik and a first-round pick, made four 3-pointers (part of 21 points) and grabbed 12 rebounds, adding space and defensive length to the Pelicans’ attack.
Those were the were precise wounds Mirotic was acquired to salve, filling two critically missing elements when New Orleans lost five of its first six games without Cousins.
“He’s playing well,” Davis said. “He’s shooting it well and rebounding it extremely well. He’s passing and playing great defense. He did a great job on Blake (Griffin) denying him the basketball. He’s really helping us a lot.”
And Emeka Okafor made his first start since 2013, keeping Davis from banging with the oversized Andre Drummond in the post and creating a favorable mismatch on the offensive end.
It was a component few expected when Okafor signed a 10-day contract, making his return to the NBA after a four-year absence. But his eight points, seven rebounds and well-timed rolls to the basket were emblematic of a team learning to fill in the gaps and regroup in the absence of a superstar.
“The one thing we talked about is we didn’t need anyone to try to replace DeMarcus,” Gentry said. “You’re not going to be able to do that. So, from a synergy standpoint we said everyone is going to have to pick it up a little bit. And by doing that, our team as a whole would be better.
“I think Jrue has stepped us his game. And AD has stepped up his game. And (Rajon) Rondo has stepped up his game. So it’s coming together.”