The subplot to Tuesday night’s matchup between Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento may prove short-lived. The Kings and Pelicans have positioned themselves as potential party crashers to a Western Conference pecking order that seemed relatively stable heading into this season. But a larger sample of games may expose one or both squads as impostors, promising outfits that will nonetheless find themselves on the outside looking in come April.
On Tuesday, though, the prospect of two upstarts jostling for playoff positioning (to say nothing of possible tiebreaker implications) added another layer of intrigue to the main event. In a hypothetical one-on-one matchup creation machine with access to all healthy players, how many pairings would currently rank ahead of Boogie vs. Brow? They weren’t pitted against one another throughout the Kings’ 106-100 win, but there were a few memorable encounters.
In the absence of direct confrontations, Davis and Cousins repeatedly imposed themselves against the opposition. On both ends of the floor, the two big men provided a string of highlights that doubled as evidence for why this game was so hyped in the first place. There was a ridiculous Cousins chasedown block and a silly end-to-end sequence from Davis among them.
Things began to heat up in the third quarter, when the Pelicans turned a nine-point deficit into a seven-point lead thanks in part to 10 points from Davis, who finished with 28 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and two steals, a stat line so ordinary by his standards, it can be filed away under “just another night for Davis.” In the same vein, there may be some who come away disappointed with Davis’ performance after seeing him do things like this and this.
More encouraging for the Pelicans was the timely production provided by Eric Gordon. The oft-injured shooting guard helped New Orleans erase its second-half deficit and finished with 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting to go with four assists. More than any other Davis-related development, a season-high scoring game from Gordon offers reassurance for a team that entered Tuesday ranked fifth in the league in offensive efficiency. It’s also worth pointing out that New Orleans played without defensive anchor Omer Asik, who could have made a big difference against Cousins inside.
The Kings got 24 points and 17 rebounds from Boogie but faded after the break before falling short in a late comeback bid. The loss, the fourth in their last five games, drops Sacramento to 6-5 on the season with a matchup against East frontrunner Chicago on Thursday. It’s far too early to declare the Kings’ hot start a mirage, just as it was probably premature to pass judgment on whether their promising early play was sustainable over a full season. At this stage of the season, unexpected results must be digested with the understanding that early impressions will be fleshed out over time.
The good news is these teams will meet three more times this season, including next Tuesday in New Orleans. The possible playoff implications could feel more irrelevant in each subsequent meeting. Conversely, Pelicans-Kings may be reduced to a Boogie-Brow show if neither squad is able to hang around on the playoff periphery.
Which isn’t to suggest that wouldn’t be worth watching, West standings be damned. Even if neither team amounts to anything more than “fun and intriguing,” Cousins and Davis will make for good theater no matter what.