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The Boogie-Brow Project Can Only Get Better From Here

The Pelicans got washed, but showed glimpses of a post-trade-deadline paradise

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The big new acquisition made his presence felt in the game between the Rockets and the Pelicans. I think we all knew the trade would make his team better, but it was stunning to see how quickly he adjusted. He just looked so happy to be on a contender after spending so long playing for a cellar-dweller. He even outscored his new team’s established star.

I’m talking, of course, about Lou Williams, who had 27 points on 7-of-11 3-point shooting to help the Rockets massively ruin DeMarcus Cousins’s first game with the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday. His sixth 3 in the Rockets’ 129–99 blowout made James Harden, who finished with 13 points and 14 assists, jump off the bench in glee.

But we came to watch Boogie and AD. And suffice it to say, New Orleans has some work to do. I really can’t imagine a worse game for the Pelicans: They trailed by 33 after three quarters, the largest third-quarter deficit in franchise history. They had to watch former Pelicans Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon pour in 3s. And in his Pelicans debut, Omri Casspi broke his thumb. (Thumbs are kinda important for basketball.) But hey, Boogie’s here!

I started out being overjoyed for Cousins — he drilled his first jumper, and the Pelicans announcer crowed “absolutely perfect!” He was out of the basketball wasteland that is Sacramento, and his pairing with Anthony Davis seemed so exciting and novel. But by the end of the game, it all seemed so familiar: Cousins was once again frustrated and wearing purple as his team got blown out by a contender. The Pelicans are now three games out of the hunt for the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoffs — 1.5 games behind the Kings.

In some ways, the game showed why the Cousins-Davis combo might work beautifully. (My colleague Micah Peters suggests we call them the Big Tymers. They are now officially called the Big Tymers. What up, fresh? It’s our turn.) Davis had 29 points. Cousins had 27, 14 rebounds, and finished a block shy of becoming the 10th player in NBA history to record a five-by-five. The floor seemed to be spaced well when they played together, alleviating some concerns about their compatibility. The interplay between them was fun, as Cousins was happy to share the ball with everybody, including Davis. The pairing will force teams to choose between guarding a dominant center with a player who should not guard centers, or to simultaneously play two centers — at one point, the Rockets played both Nene and Clint Capela, an offense-free lineup that had less than a minute of court time in the season before tonight. Or the Pelicans can rest one while playing the other, leading to fresh superstars against tired defenders — and I don’t think there was a second until extreme-garbage-time when neither player was in the game.

The game also showed why the combo needs a ton of work before it starts clicking. The trade for Cousins left the Pelicans with one of the lightest wing rotations in the NBA, and those wings played like garbage Thursday night. New Orleans’s non-big starters — Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, and Solomon Hill — scored 15 points on 22 shots, going 1-for-11 from 3. The only other guards on the roster are Tim Frazier, Hollis Thompson (newly signed to a 10-day contract), and Quincy Pondexter, who is hurt. The game reminded us that the Pelicans are attempting to build around a pair of dominant bigs in a league increasingly dependent on 3-point shooters: The Rockets drilled 20 3s — in part because of New Orleans’s subpar guard play, and in part because the Pelicans were playing two large dudes.

It would be nice if Cousins and Davis helped the Pelicans mount a run to the playoffs. But they don’t need that — the end goal here is not to get washed by the Warriors in the first round, but rather to build something big with the NBA’s two best bigs. And that might take time: The Pelicans don’t quite have the roster, the game plan, or the familiarity to make it succeed yet. Boogie and the Brow is a bold basketball experiment. Maybe it will yield some incredible discovery, but until it does, there might be some unfortunate explosions.