When the New Orleans Pelicans tip off Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, most eyes will be on the marquee matchup of All-Star power forwards Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin.
Davis had a franchise-record stretch of at least 28 points in eight consecutive games until the Pelicans’ victory Monday night against the Brooklyn Nets, in which he had 24 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Griffin has been key in the Clippers (50-21) winning 13 of their past 14 games. He scored at least 20 points in 28 consecutive games, the longest such streak in franchise history.
However, if recent games are any indication, attention at Smoothie King Center may quickly switch to guard/forward Tyreke Evans. Evans, who had 33 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and three steals in the overtime win against Brooklyn, has been on tear since moving into the starting lineup on Feb. 28 against the Phoenix Suns. His play in support of Davis has been a big reason the Pelicans (30-40) are on a three-game winning streak.
“I’m playing with a lot of confidence now,” Evans said. “My teammates are making shots, and that has opened lanes for me to drive, and I’ve been taking advantage of it.”
Since he moved from his sixth-man role to the starting lineup at small forward, Evans has averaged 21.8 points, 6.0 assists and 5.8 rebounds. His previous best stretch came in December, when he put up 15.7 points, 5.8 assists and 5.0 rebounds.
Asked about Evans’ confidence growing with the move, coach Monty Williams gave a knowing shrug.
“Some guys are just like that,” Williams said. “Some guys just feel like they have to be a starter. Other guys say they don’t want to start.”
Evans has not always appeared pleased with coming off the bench. When it became clear that starting small forward Al-Farouq Aminu’s lack of scoring hampered a team that has been restructured because of injuries, Williams was forced to move Evans into the lineup.
“He texted me that he was going to start me,” Evans said, smiling at the memory. “I said, ‘Well, OK.’ ”
As the games have worn on, he has become more and more of a force with which to reckon with his drives to the basket. With his one-man fast breaks, the team is playing at a faster pace. Likely not coincidentally, Davis’ impressive stretch began with Evans alongside him.
Davis said he likes to play more uptempo. It’s fun, he said, and it decreases the impact of grinding, physical play on his slender 225 pounds stretched over his 6-foot-10 frame. Davis said Evans has a saying before games and coming out of timeouts about keeping the pace up.
“(Evans) says, ‘It’s pedal to the metal,’ ” Davis said. “We don’t have time to stop for chips, soda, nothing!”
Becoming a starter clearly has made Evans step up as a leader, a void that needed to be filled with starting point guard Jrue Holiday out for the season, as well as forward Ryan Anderson. Williams said the best thing about Evans’ heightened play and exuberance is that it is now evident on both sides of the court.
“What I like about the way he’s playing he’s been a much better defender,” Williams said. “When he came to us, I was concerned about his weakside defense. But, he’s been good there, and (against Brooklyn), he made some steals in key situations that played a part in our getting the win.”
The Pelicans have knocked off three consecutive teams — the Atlanta Hawks, two-time defending champion Miami Heat and the Nets — who are in playoff position. However, the recent play of the Clippers, who are 3-0 against the Pelicans this season, has them touted as possible Western Conference champions.
“They have about 11 guys who really play well,” Williams said. “But the head of the snake is (point guard) Chris Paul. He can beat you with his leadership, his scoring and his defense.”
Anderson out for season
The Pelicans said Anderson will miss the remainder of the season because of a herniated cervical disc that has sidelined him since early January.
Anderson is scheduled to have neck surgery April 8 to repair the injury, which occurred when he collided with the Celtics’ Gerald Wallace during a game in Boston on Jan. 3.
The 6-foot-10 Pelicans forward, who had been averaging 19.8 points during the first two months of the season, had been undergoing routine evaluations for nearly three months in hopes he would heal adequately with rest and that surgery could be avoided.
However, team officials said physicians monitoring Anderson have determined that surgery will provide the six-year veteran with the best chance of a full recovery.
Williams said he’ll have more information Wednesday on point guard Brian Roberts’ knee injury. Roberts twisted the knee, then fell to the court after being fouled on a drive with 5:23 left in the fourth quarter. He played the rest of the game. The team went easy in practice Tuesday, Williams said. . . . Former Grace King standout Danny Granger has averaged 9.4 points and 2.6 rebounds in 10 games, playing 16.8 minutes, since signing with the Clippers on Feb. 28. Former LSU standout Glen “Big Baby” Davis is averaging 3.6 points and 2.6 rebounds playing 13.9 minutes a game. Both scored nine points in Wednesday’s win vs. Milwaukee.