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Pelicans host Jazz with Mirotic trying to fill Cousins void
NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Pelicans have lost three of four games since All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins suffered a season-ending left Achilles tear on Jan. 26 against the Houston Rockets, but help could be on the way.
Even though the Pelicans lost 118-107 on the road Saturday night to red-hot Minnesota, newly acquired forward Nikola Mirotic recorded a double-double in his Pelicans' debut -- 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting and 12 rebounds.
Mirotic's ability to rebound, shoot effectively from long range and pass the ball should give the Pelicans (28-24) a chance to end their recent slide Monday night against the Utah Jazz (24-28).
The Jazz have won five in a row, including their last four road games, and they upset the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night 120-111 even though leading scorer, guard Donovan Mitchell, was out with the flu after scoring 40 points in a victory over the Suns in Phoenix.
Ricky Rubio took over and scored a career-high 34 points, making his first nine shots from the field, and also dished out nine assists in 35 minutes. He finished 11 of 14 from the field, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range, and 9 of 10 from the foul line.
"I know Rubio's a great guard," said San Antonio guard DeJounte Murray, "but that's the best I've seen him play."
The Pelicans will need a little time to incorporate Mirotic into their offensive flow. The power forward showed up in Minnesota a few hours before tipoff on Saturday and had time only to go over basic offensive and defensive sets.
But coming off the bench, Mirotic showed the skills and the energy the Pelicans need to take pressure off Anthony Davis.
"He's an all-around player, we brought him in for a reason," Davis said of Mirotic. "He showcased everything that he can do. We are going to continue to need him to play how he played tonight. He was able to space the floor and make some great plays defensively. We're glad to have him. Now it's about trying to figure everything out, fitting him into the offense. We were just running random stuff and he was able to be successful."
Davis had scored 43 points on Friday night in a 114-100 road win against Oklahoma City -- the Pelicans' only victory in the last four games -- but he needed 30 field goal attempts. Mirotic figures to help.
"It's true I didn't have too much time to prepare," Mirotic sad. "We didn't have a practice (Saturday) morning because they played (Friday) night. I had a meeting with the coach and the team this morning, and I watched some film. Those guys made it simple for me tonight. Tough loss, but I'm very happy to be with the guys and the team. It's a great feeling to be here."
New Orleans also has to be encouraged by the recent play of little-used forward Cheick Diallo, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench against Minnesota, the first double-double of his NBA career.
"The way he played tonight, he earned the opportunity for more minutes," New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. "That's a situation where we'll try to get him more. His activity on the boards was really good; his running and getting out (in transition) was good also."
The Jazz also should feel great about the effectiveness of rookie small forward Royce O'Neale, who scored a career-high 18 points against the Spurs and also dished out five assists.
The teams split the first two games, both in Utah. The Jazz won 114-108 on Dec. 1 behind Mitchell's career-high 41 points. Utah also beat the Pelicans 108-98 on Jan. 3. The Jazz have won four of the last five against New Orleans.
Updated February 4, 2018
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