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NBA Preview: Pelicans hope to start win streak versus surprising Kings team

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Who will emerge victorious from the Anthony Davis vs. DeMarcus Cousins matchup?

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Sacramento Kings
The one, the only, Demarcus Cousins
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Right on the heels of the dramatic duel between Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns, the New Orleans Pelicans travel to Sacramento this Sunday to partake in another heated University of Kentucky big man rivalry.

The Sacramento Kings, led by All Star center DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, have been hot as of late. After a monumental win versus Golden State last week, they’ve won two of their last three, beating both Atlanta and Boston. Perhaps the scariest trend from the Kings is that the team’s recent success hasn’t all come on the back of superstar Boogie Cousins. Veteran point guard Darren Collison has played well of late, averaging 20 points per game over their last four, and even led the team to a win over the Celtics without the suspended Cousins.

That is not to say the Sacramento offense doesn’t need Cousins. Just as Davis is a clear focal point in the Pelicans offense, Cousins plays a similar role in the Kings sets. Cousins is second in the league in usage percentage, at 37.3%. Davis falls 6th on that list, at 32.6%. Both offenses run through their big-men, and it shows in their numbers. Davis and Cousins are number one and two respectively this season when it comes to both points per game and field goal attempts per game for centers.

Playing Anthony Davis at center this year has already allowed for one fantastic matchup between these superstars this season, don’t be surprised if it happens again. Not surprisingly, when Cousins scores less, shoots worse, and turns the ball over more, the Kings have an affinity to lose.

If the Pelicans plan on winning this game, they’ll need to temper the hot shooting of the Kings. According to NBA.com, Sacramento has made 40% of the threes they’ve put up over the past 10 games, good for 11.3 deep makes per game. This doesn’t bode well for the Pelicans, who over that same stretch have let opponents shoot 47% from the field against them, putting them at 20th in the league.

As the Pelicans continue to drudge through the season, they look for any semblance of consistency, especially on offense. The last game versus the Timberwolves marked a fantastic offensive outing, totaling 122 points and shooting a scorching 60% from the field. That, however, is far from the norm, as in just the previous game, New Orleans suffered their worst loss of the season versus the Utah Jazz.

Sunday’s contest comes in a succession of games that have major implications for both races the Pelicans are currently involved in: namely, the race for the 8th seed in the west, and the race for the earliest draft pick possible. If the Pelicans were to lose, they’d move one step closer to attaining a high lottery pick. Though, if the Pelicans were to beat the Kings, New Orleans would have an edge in the case of a tie-breaker, an increasingly likely scenario. For some, that makes this game a win-win scenario for the Pelicans. For most, it makes the game lose-lose.

The Pelicans sit one game behind the 22-32 Kings, at 21-33. Only three and half games out of the 8th seed, the playoffs are still very much in reach for the Pelicans. Games against the Kings, Timberwolves, Nuggets, Trailblazers, and Mavericks will most likely be the deciding factor to whether we get to see New Orleans playoff basketball this year.

The story of this game is the story every time the Kings and Pelicans meet up: who will dominate, Anthony Davis, or Demarcus Cousins?

What: Pelicans at Kings

Where: Golden 1 Center — Sacramento, California

When: February 12th, 2017 at 8:00 PM Central

How: Fox Sports New Orleans, Comcast SportsNet California, NBAtv, 99.5 FM WRNO