DALLAS — If anyone still believed the Pelicans’ winning streak was all about Anthony Davis, the rest of the team offered a strong argument to the contrary Sunday night.
Oh, sure, the NBA MVP candidate was a force as always, posting an excellent line of 23 points, 13 rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals. But he wasn’t the biggest reason New Orleans stretched its run to eight consecutive victories by overpowering Dallas 126-109 at American Airlines Center.
No, the primary driver to success was — everyone else.
Guard Jrue Holiday went to the basket relentlessly, destroying Dennis Smith Jr. and every other Mavericks guard who tried to defend him on the way to 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting with seven assists and only one turnover.
Forward Nikola Mirotic finally displayed the 3-point touch that led the Pelicans to acquire him a month ago, drilling six of 11 shots beyond the line and finishing with 24 points.
Rajon Rondo just missed a triple-double with 14 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists — and one turnover. Chieck Diallo was all over the boards, leading the team with 15 rebounds to go with 13 points.
Even little-known and little-used guard Walter Lemon Jr., playing on a 10-day contract, contributed, flashing for a career-high six points in just five first-half minutes during a surge beginning late in the first quarter that first broke the game open, turning a single-digit lead into a 19-point advantage at 52-33 midway through the second.
The win pushed the Pelicans into fourth place in the Western Conference standings at 36-26, percentage points ahead of Minnesota and just a half-game behind third-place Portland.
While Davis’ performance didn’t match the historic dominance he’d shown in the previous seven games — during which he averaged 39.3 points, 15.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.7 blocks per game — the performance of the team around him illustrated why it has been so hot even without injured star DeMarcus Cousins, who was lost for the season Jan. 26 with an Achilles tendon injury.
“I think it took us a little while to get over the Cousins injury and him not being around,” coach Alvin Gentry said before the game. “But then I think our guys kind of regrouped and they understand their roles are going to be redefined a little bit.”
Playing those roles, the Pelicans kept the lead in double digits most of the way — with the notable exception of a 14-0 Dallas surge powered by ageless future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki (23 points) that closed the margin to 91-87 with 10:30 left in the game.
But New Orleans quickly put out that fire with 10 unanswered points, then turned up the heat to win going away, as Rondo, Holiday and Mirotic took over the fourth quarter.