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Pelicans begin life without Cousins vs. Clippers

NEW ORLEANS -- It was a cruel tweak that changed the course of the season for the New Orleans Pelicans and, possibly, the future of DeMarcus Cousins.

Cousins took an awkward step chasing down his missed free throw in the final seconds of an impressive 115-113 victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night, rupturing his left Achilles tendon and sidelining him for the rest of the season.

The best current NBA player never to have made the playoffs will miss the next 6-to-10 months rehabbing the injury. The Pelicans (27-21), meanwhile, have 34 games left to see if they can hold onto a Western Conference playoff spot with Anthony Davis, their other All-Pro, shouldering the load.

The post-Cousins Pelicans will get their first test Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers, who beat the Memphis Grizzlies 109-100 to get back to .500 at 24-24.

But all the concern Saturday was for Cousins, who is scheduled to undergo surgery and won't be able to return until late July at the earliest and November at the latest. The injury also complicates contract decisions for the Pelicans and for Cousins, a free agent who likely was to be offered a max five-year, $175 million deal by the Pelicans.

"It's tough, not knowing what's going to happen, how big your market is going to be, are you going to be the same (player) coming back?" Davis said, evaluating the economic realities of Cousins' injury. "But I think he's done enough in his career to show that he's very solid."

Davis hit exactly the right tone when he expressed the frustration Pelicans fans were feeling. The Pelicans have won seven of their last eight games and were showing signs of finishing off games with a purpose.

"We were just figuring everything out, that's the tough part," Davis said. "We've just got to keep going, keep finding a way to win."

"What everybody today feels is there's a sadness for DeMarcus," New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. "He's worked extremely hard to be where he is right now. I think the guys feel really badly for him."

Gentry said all the right things about "next man up," but it will be impossible for one player to replace Cousins' superhuman stat line: 25.2 points and 12.9 rebounds per game.

When guard Jrue Holiday returned from a 12-game early-season absence last year -- he was caring for his wife after brain surgery -- the Pelicans played .500 ball last year in the games before acquiring Cousins in a trade at the All-Star break.

"We can still guard defensively," Gentry said. "We can still play with pace. We're still going to be a good passing team.

"Last night (against the Rockets) we had 36 assists. We're an unselfish team. We'll move the basketball and get good shots for each other."

Pelicans guard Rajon Rondo, a close friend of Cousins, believes the team has enough to withstand the body blow.

"There is still only one Anthony Davis (in the NBA)," Rondo said. "No one can match that. We have to continue to trust one another. It's a team sport. We'll play team basketball."

The Clippers come in on the strength of a 40-point performance off the bench by guard Lou Williams, whom Gentry calls a "professional scorer." Williams was the first player in more than 35 years to have at least 40 points and 10 assists off the bench.

Williams made 12 of 19 shots from the floor and 12 of 14 foul shots and added four steals.

"I'm a scorer, but just the opportunity to be out on the floor with what's expected of me," Williams said. "It's unique. Usually I'd play to 25 minutes a game. I think I have more of a leadership role now."

Updated January 27, 2018

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