Dallas at New Orleans
Time: 7 PM CT (NBA LP)
Spread: NOP -9
Odds c/o 5dimes
The New Orleans Pelicans have cooled some after a 10-game winning streak. Since it ended, the Pels have gone just 2-4, with losses to some tough playoff caliber teams. The Pelicans defeated Boston and Charlotte, but suffered ‘Ls’ to Houston, San Antonio, Utah, and Washington. Even so, the Pelicans are positioned No. 7 in the Western Conference and are 10-games above .500, which is a marked improvement over where the team was, even with a healthy DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins seems likely to re-sign in New Orleans, and with him healthy and in the fold, and some off-season tinkering, the Pelicans could be further on the rise next year.
The primary reason is that Anthony Davis is the league’s best big man, and that comes without the “arguably” disclaimer. Davis has been playing MVP ball sans Cousins, and the Pelicans are rallying around their all-world center. Davis has averaged 27 points, 3.4 blocks and 12.1 rebounds over his last 10 games, and he is averaging 28.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game against the Dallas Mavericks this season.
There are just so few things opposing bigs can do to cover a player with Davis’ guile and skill, and he may be the best offensive big since Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson. The lines of comparison are certainly there, but what has not been there is a Pelicans title run, and that is something it took Robinson teaming up with Tim Duncan to happen, or Hakeem teaming up with Clyde Drexler. Ideally, Cousins forms the 1B to Davis’ 1A, but that will not happen this season with Cousins at home nursing a torn Achilles’. In the meantime, Davis can continue to assert himself and allow fans to wonder “What if…” with the addendum being “Cousins were healthy.”
Dallas (22-48), though eliminated mathematically from the 2018 playoffs, has several reasons to be excited about the progress of what has to be called one of the stranger rebuilds in recent history. While still clinging to what is left of Dirk Nowitzki’s career, the Mavs are nevertheless in something of a tank mode, bent on developing their young talents and positioning themselves for another high pick in the 2018 draft. And that is not all bad. The No. 8 overall pick from the 2017 draft has thus far panned out brilliantly for Dallas, as Dennis Smith Jr. is becoming a household name on a horrible team, which is something of a task in and of itself.
Smith has only been getting more aggressive and better as his rookie season has worn on. Over the Mavericks last five games (four of which were losses), he has averaged 13.6 points, 6.4 assists and 4.0 rebounds while shooting just 29 percent from the floor. His three-point stroke still leaves some room for improvement at just 31.6 percent on the season, but what he lacks in marksmanship he makes up for with extra-worldly athleticism. Over the last five games he has connected on just 4 of 23 from behind the arc.
Shooting struggles aside, Smith’s highlights should keep him on everyone’s radar until the Mavericks build a team around him, but in the meantime, it is difficult to ignore what he is doing already. Smith had 12 points and five assists in the 106-99 victory over Sacramento last outing on Feb. 3, and while outside of swingman Harrison Barnes, not much surrounds him, he does look to have the makings of a true superstar to cede Nowitzki after he finally decides to hang it up.
Dirk still has started all 53 games this season, but he is just playing 25 minutes a night and averaging a very humble 12 points and five rebounds per game. Perhaps the most telling part of his decline, however, has not been the reduction in minutes and usage, but the fact Nowitzki is shooting just 46 percent from the field and attempting just under 10 shots per game. While his guile and skill should enable him to remain at least this effective a little longer, there is no delusional Mavericks fan that is waiting nor expecting him to return to the MVP-caliber play by which his career became known for.
Nevertheless, Barnes (18.4 points per game) and Smith should keep Dallas relevant once Dirk does retire, and the Mavericks may ultimately look for a frontcourt replacement this year in the NBA Draft. It is a rebuild certainly that has more promise than others around the league, despite the fact it is hard to just call it a rebuild while rostering a Hall of Fame talent, still.