As New Orleans star Anthony Davis prepares for the second half of the season with the Pelicans holding on to the eighth seed in the Western Conference, he still thinks about what could have been this year had teammate DeMarcus Cousins not ruptured his Achilles.
"We could have gone through the playoffs. No one could really stop us as bigs. We go to the Finals if we went," Davis told ESPN's Rachel Nichols in an interview over All-Star weekend.
"[Teammate Rajon Rondo] reminds us of it: 'You guys are the two best bigs. I know what it takes to win championships; we got it.'"
Davis and Cousins were on pace to become the first teammates ever to each average 25 points and 10 rebounds per game when Cousins went down with the season-ending injury on Jan. 26. The Pelicans were sixth in the West at that point and climbing in the standings. Cousins was averaging 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. According to ESPN Stats & Information, over the past 50 seasons, only four players averaged those numbers for an entire season -- and all four were named MVP.
With Cousins' injury, the burden shifted back to Davis.
"When he goes down, it's, all right, it goes back to AD before DeMarcus, a lot of minutes, weight of the world on your shoulders," Davis said. "You know, you gotta carry the team on your back, you gotta almost get 40 every night for us -- to give us a chance to win."
Davis said he has been mirroring Russell Westbrook's approach to keep the Pelicans in the playoff picture. They are 4-5 since Cousins' injury, compared to 27-21 before that.
"You kind of have that Russell Westbrook mentality when [Kevin Durant] went out," Davis said. "Russ just went out there and played, and he shot 40 shots sometimes, you know, whatever it takes to help your team win, and I'm kind of taking that approach.
"I think it's 3 through 10 is all right there [in the West], so we want to make sure we're in the mix. We can't let this thing go away."
Davis said the Pelicans have been playing for one another -- "playing with a lot more energy, a sense of urgency" -- but that simply making the playoffs isn't good enough.
"I've done that before, and nobody talks about it. Nobody talks about it at all," he said. "I feel like we can do more. We have to. You know, they all say basketball is a game of runs. This might be our run. You know, you don't know, and you just got to play it out and see where it goes from there."
Cousins' injury also put the Pelicans in a predicament when it comes to Davis' future. He is signed for three more season but has said publicly that he wants to win. And Cousins is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Davis said that hearing former players such as Kevin Garnett express regret about not asking sooner for a trade to a more competitive franchise has made him think.
"It makes you think, 'cause you're wondering if you're following in that same path," he said. "But then again, you're like, 'This year could be the year.'
"So, just got to take it year by year and just see, and see where the team is going, what direction they want to go to and just see where their head is."