COUSINS HITS BUMPY ROAD WITH PEL­I­CANS

Since land­ing star, pair­ing him with Davis, team is 0-3

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Sam Amick @sam_am­ick

The pres­sure was coming ei­ther way, no mat­ter how lux­u­ri­ous the pri­vate jet was that car­ried DeMar­cus Cousins from Sacra­mento to his new NBA home in New Or­leans last week.

New Or­leans Pel­i­cans gen­eral man­ager Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gen­try trav­eled more than 1,800 miles to make the for­mer Sacra­mento Kings big man feel wel­come, then went the prover­bial ex­tra mile by opt­ing for the char­ter route af­ter land­ing him in the Feb. 18 block­buster trade. Cousins was the su­per­star they’d been wait­ing for to pair with An­thony Davis, the MVP-cal­iber tal­ent who could take their team to the play­offs and per­haps even of­fer much-needed job se­cu­rity for all in­volved.

But he was also the league’s most tem­per­a­men­tal tal­ent, the fire to Davis’ ice whose agents had warned teams not to trade for him as they tried to land a $200 mil­lion-plus con­tract this sum­mer that only Sacra­mento could have pro­vided. This could have been a South­west flight, in other words, and their ears still would have been pop­ping.

That’s the tricky thing about try­ing to as­cend.

Three games into the Boo­gie-Brow era, the pres­sure rises fur­ther.

Af­ter get­ting routed by the Hous­ton Rockets 129-99 on Thurs­day in Cousins’ Pel­i­cans de­but and fall­ing 96-83 to the Dal­las Mav­er­icks on Satur­day, they fell again Sun­day, 118-110 at the Ok­la­homa City Thunder.

They’re 23-37 and 31⁄ games 2 be­hind the Den­ver Nuggets (2633) for the eighth and fi­nal play­off po­si­tion in the West, a spot they can hardly see with the Kings, Port­land Trail Blaz­ers, Mav­er­icks and Minnesota Tim­ber­wolves in the way. They have 22 games left.

For all the fo­cus on how the Pel­i­cans landed Cousins for the “Wanna Get Away” fare — Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a first-round pick and sec­ond-round pick in 2017 — they’re aware that this whole trip will end with a crash and burn if they don’t man the con­trols. Cousins’ agent, Jarinn Akana, has said an ex­ten­sion this sum­mer is a non-starter, and free agency looms in the sum­mer of 2018.

Get­ting to the play­offs would be the per­fect way to en­sure a smooth flight — at least here at the start.

“We’re go­ing to try to make it work quickly,” Gen­try said at last week’s in­tro­duc­tory news con­fer­ence. “That may not be the case, but we don’t have a whole lot of mar­gin of er­ror right now.”

But the 0-3 start with Cousins — small sam­ple size and all — doesn’t bode well for the re­la­tion­ship.

While Cousins stood out in his Pel­i­cans de­but (27 points, 14 re­bounds, five as­sists, five steals, four blocked shots and one turnover), he had 12 points (3-for-8 shoot­ing) against the Mav­er­icks to go with 15 re­bounds, six as­sists, three steals and seven turnovers. The eight shots marked the third time he had taken sin­gle-digit at­tempts over the last three sea­sons.

Davis, mean­while, took 34 at­tempts, his most since New Or­leans’ sea­son-open­ing loss against the Den­ver Nuggets on Oct. 26 (also 34). His num­bers haven’t dipped with Cousins’ ar­rival; Davis has av­er­aged 35.3 points and 10 re­bounds in the three games.

Cousins seemed to get back on track Sun­day, scor­ing 31 points on 8-for-15 shoot­ing with 10 re­bounds, three as­sists and one turnover.

Still, noth­ing is go­ing right for the Pel­i­cans. Vet­eran swing­man Omri Casspi, who came with Cousins in the deal from the Kings, broke his thumb in his first Pel­i­cans game and was waived to make room on the ros­ter. An­other ros­ter spot was gained by waiv­ing for­ward Ter­rence Jones on Thurs­day.

New Or­leans has since signed vet­eran guards Jar­rett Jack and Reg­gie Wil­liams, if only be­cause the tur­bu­lence de­manded it.

As Pel­i­cans color com­men­ta­tor and long­time NBA guard David Wes­ley sees it, Davis and Cousins haven’t found a way to share the hard­wood.

“Right now, the spac­ing of the floor is not there,” Wes­ley said on the Satur­day tele­cast. “And with DeMar­cus, An­thony, who­ever is on the block that’s try­ing to op­er­ate, there are no lanes to op­er­ate with.

“There are no spa­ces right now to drive the basketball for the guards or the perime­ter play­ers. And they’re go­ing to have to fig­ure that out. This is (the) team they have.”

So far, though, this run­way is rough.

MARK D. SMITH, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

DeMar­cus Cousins has had two strong games and one sub­par out­ing since be­ing traded, but the Pel­i­cans have yet to win.

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