Pelicans’ Davis making MVP case with Cousins sidelined

New Orleans Pelicans at Milwaukee Bucks

Injuries to star players aren’t usually a good thing, but the New Orleans Pelicans have only gotten better since losing DeMarcus Cousins. Team leading scorer Anthony Davis is thriving in an even bigger role without Cousins, and Davis’ MVP-worthy play has New Orleans riding a six-game winning streak into playoff contention in the competitive Western Conference.

Cousins suffered a season-ending Achilles injury late in January, and the Pelicans initially stumbled without him, losing five of six prior to their winning streak. Davis needed a little bit of time to become comfortable with doing more - he is averaging seven more shots per game in February than he did in January - but now he appears to be on a roll with at least 40 points in four of the six victories. Davis is also averaging 15 rebounds during the streak, as well as averaging 4 blocks and 2.7 steals since the All-Star break.

Thanks to the winning streak, New Orleans is only a game and a half behind the San Antonio Spurs, who sit fourth in the conference and second in the Southwest Division. The Pelicans last made the playoffs in 2015, when they snuck in in eighth place and were promptly swept by the Golden State Warriors, but they haven’t held home court advantage in a decade, which is also the length of time since the franchise’s first and only playoff series win. If New Orleans can overtake the Spurs on the strength of Davis’ dominant performances and secure home court for the opening round, he would have a strong case in the MVP race alongside names like James Harden, LeBron James, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

As dominant as he is at both ends of the floor, Davis can’t fill the void left by Cousins on his own. New arrival Nikola Mirotic is settling in nicely, averaging 14.1 points and 8.8 rebounds since being traded by the Chicago Bulls and providing some of the interior presence that Cousins normally would with a block rate almost identical to Cousins’. Jrue Holiday is distributing the ball more with a season-high 7.3 assists per game in February, while Rajon Rondo is averaging over 9 assists in the month.

The Pelicans end the month with a visit to San Antonio on Wednesday, which should be their winning streak’s toughest test yet since the Spurs are 22-6 at home. The division rivals will also meet twice more before the end of the regular season in what are suddenly looking like very meaningful games in terms of playoff positioning.