NEW ORLEANS | DeMarcus Cousins employed a hesitation dribble between his legs as he approached center Kenneth Faried in the lane. The Pelicans big man then spun between Faried and converging Denver forward Wilson Chandler and was fouled as he converted a leaning scoop off the glass.
It was perhaps the best of many highlights for Cousins, who had 40 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks to help New Orleans down Denver 123-114 on Wednesday night.
“Just trying to make a play, doing whatever it takes to help the team win a game. Tonight was my night,” Cousins said. “You kind of get locked in and you know when you’re rolling, of course, but it’s still all about making the right play because eventually they adjust.”
Jrue Holiday scored 27 points and E’Twaun Moore had 14 for New Orleans, which shot 53.5 percent (46 of 86) and won for the second time in three games without All-Star forward Anthony Davis.
Gary Harris scored 24 for the short-handed Nuggets, who remained without recently injured frontcourt stalwarts Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap.
“They’re not as deep as they usually are at the big spot and they were a bit under-sized,” Cousins said in explaining why he was aggressive from the outset.
The Pelicans liked what they saw and let Cousins dictate the offense.
“It’s hard to stop him. Just give him the ball, really,” Holiday said. “He should have had 50. He missed a couple free throws.”
Cousins missed seven, in fact, but it hardly mattered.
Emmanuel Mudiay scored 17 points, while Will Barton and Jamal Murray each scored 15 for the Nuggets, who were as close as 97-94 after Malik Beasley’s 3 with 11:25 to go, only to fade down the stretch.
The Pelicans broke the game open in the fourth quarter with a decisive 20-3 run during which Cousins scored six points and blocked two shots. That made the score 117-97, and Denver didn’t threaten again.
“We didn’t guard anybody,” Denver coach Mike Malone said. “It’s becoming the same story every single night. Until our guys start taking it personally, until our guys start understating the importance of playing defense and guarding your man 1-on-1, forget playoffs. That is a word we should not use for this team.”
Cousins has now had at least 40 points and 20 rebounds in a game twice this season, the first time coming in a victory at Sacramento on Oct. 26.
“I’m not really focused on the numbers,” insisted Cousins, who played 39:34 and scored his last point with 23 seconds left. “We got a win. That’s all that matters.”
Nuggets: Trey Lyles had 10 points and 11 rebounds. … Jokic missed his third straight game with a left ankle sprain, while Millsap missed his eighth straight with a left wrist injury. … Barton was assessed a technical foul for arguing after officials called a defensive foul on Denver on Cousins’ missed layup.
Pelicans: Davis missed his third straight game with a strained left adductor. His status for New Orleans’ next game remains unclear. … Tony Allen was called for a technical foul in the third quarter for complaining to officials from the bench that they’d blown a call when they gave possession to Denver after replays clearly showed the ball going out off of a Nuggets player. … Darius Miller has made at least one 3 in 17 straight games.
The Nuggets made 10 of 19 3-point attempts in the first half, when they shot 51 percent overall and led by as many as 10 points.
New Orleans shot nearly 57 percent, with Cousins and Holiday each scoring 19 points during the first two quarters, after which New Orleans led 67-66.
“In the first half we kind of got sucked into playing their style of play, just trying to outscore one another,” Cousins said. “We came in at half and said the first team to play a little bit of defense is going to be the team to win the game.”
Cousins was upset that officials reviewed a play in which Mason Plumlee crashed dramatically to the court after Cousins’ elbow came near the Denver forward’s face as Cousins secured a rebound. Replays did not show obvious contact, and officials decided to uphold their original call that Plumlee committed a foul. On Nov. 20, Cousins was ejected after a similar play involving Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.
“Just the antics. It’s silly man, like, just let me live,” Cousins said. “Just trying to villainize me and the way that it’s going, I hate it. Just let me be a basketball player. That’s all I’m asking.”
Nuggets: Visit Orlando on Friday night.
Pelicans: Host Sacramento on Friday night.