|Pelicans, Bulls meet in game between improving teams|
NEW ORLEANS -- For the New Orleans Pelicans and the Chicago Bulls, all the arrows are pointing up.
The Pelicans (24-21) have won five of their last seven games, including a 111-104 home victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night. The Bulls are just 18-28 on the season, but they have gone 15-8 since starting the season 3-20, and they have won four of their last five games, including an impressive 113-97 road victory over Miami on Monday night.
When the Pelicans host the Bulls Monday night, they will be trying to win their second straight game at home and improve on a 12-9 record at the Smoothie King Center that coach Alvin Gentry says could be the key to their playoff hopes.
New Orleans defeated Chicago 96-90 in overtime on the road Nov. 4, snapping a six-game losing streak to the Bulls. In that victory, Anthony Davis scored 27 points and had 16 rebounds and DeMarcus Cousins had 25 points and 11 rebounds.
The Pelicans' two All-Star Game starters have shown consistent signs of playing off each other, but their scoring ability in the paint and on the perimeter has led opponents to devote more resources to keep them under control, allowing other players to beat them.
In the Pelicans' victory over the Grizzlies, Davis took just two shots in the second half because Memphis kept blitzing him whenever he got the ball. That left room for guard Jrue Holiday to score at will.
Showing the aggressiveness that was missing earlier in the season, Holiday scored a team-high 27 points and added a team-high eight assists. Holiday scored 13 of the Pelicans' 23 fourth-quarter points as New Orleans recovered from another third-quarter lapse and staved off a collapse after leading by 20 points in the first half.
"It's just easy when they key on two people (Davis and Cousins)," Holiday said. "It's pretty much me with one (defender). I wouldn't say it's easy, but in those situations you just have to make the play."
Davis has been the lightning rod for opposing defenses since exploding for 48 points against the Knicks and 45 points against the Celtics in overtime road victories last week.
"More and more teams are trying to take our two bigs out of the game and see what we can do with our other players," Gentry said. "That's fine with (Davis and Cousins). If it means them taking just 13 shots each, they are fine with it because all they want to do is win."
The Bulls probably will be without point guard Kris Dunn, who is still shaking off concussion symptoms following a hard fall in a Wednesday night loss to Golden State. Jerian Grant is expected to get the start, with backup help from Zach LaVine, who is working his way back for ACL surgery, and Denzel Valentine.
The Bulls got a strong effort in Miami from forward Lauri Markkanen, who scored 19 points despite missing all four of his 3-pointers, which is his strong suit. Markkanen was the fastest player ever in the NBA to make at least 100 3-pointers.
Markkanen decided to go inside against the Heat, finishing with six dunks and another two layups.
"I'm trying to be a complete player," Markkanen said. "I can do much more than just shoot from the outside. That wasn't going for me, so I figured I would do something else. I can shoot threes, but I can get to the rim. Eventually, that's going to open up a lot more space for 3-pointers. Try to mix it up."