Alvin Gentry could have slid Jrue Holiday back into the starting lineup, could have opted to break up the Pelicans’ bench unit of which he’s become so fond.
Instead, the New Orleans coach went with Norris Cole in place of injured guard Eric Gordon on Thursday night at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans responded with their best first half of the season and a 115-99 rout of the Detroit Pistons.
“Genius,” Gentry said with a chuckle.
He was joking — “Of course I don’t mean that,” Gentry said — but whether it was lineup stability, Detroit’s fatigue from a game Wednesday night game or merely a matter of the Pelicans getting hot at the right time, New Orleans clicked against the Pistons.
The Pelicans shot 60.9 percent from the floor in the first quarter — despite missing their last three shots — and led by as many as 12 points. They stretched the lead as wide as 21 in a second quarter in which they made 71.4 percent of their shots.
New Orleans lead 72-53 after the third-highest-scoring half in franchise history and led by double digits for all but one possession of the second half.
Anthony Davis (32 points, seven rebounds) and Tyreke Evans (22 points, 10 assists) led the way, but in their first game without Gordon — out four to six weeks after surgery on the fractured ring finger on his right hand — the Pelicans got across-the-board contributions.
“The one thing that we talked about — with the whole team, but especially Norris — is that, ‘Don’t feel like you have to step in and replace Eric,’ ” Gentry said. “We just need everyone to do a little bit more but not feel the pressure of feeling like you got to step in and do what he does for us.”
Holiday struggled offensively — he finished with six points and four assists on 3-for-11 shooting — but Cole scored eight of his 12 points in the first quarter, and finished with eight rebounds and seven assists.
Ryan Anderson scored 13 points. Omer Asik had a season-high 12, just his second double-digit scoring game of the season. Alonzo Gee had seven points and nine rebounds.
“The flow was going great,” Evans said. “Everybody had a rhythm. Everybody seemed aggressive and focused.”
That team effort helped New Orleans overcome 19 points and 22 rebounds from the Pistons’ Andre Drummond. The Pelicans tied Detroit on the boards with 44. The Pistons, who are 21-9 when they outrebound opponents, fell to 2-11 in games when they don’t.
Most every Pelican pitched in, but it was Davis who led the way. The forward — who learned after the game that he hadn’t been voted into the All-Star Game as a starter — had his second straight game of 30-plus points, his fifith straight with at least 21.
“It was a really good team win,” Gentry said. “AD is really playing at an MVP-type level, and when he does, he opens up the game for everybody else.”
That’s helping the Pelicans make a move. At least temporarily on Thursday, they pulled to within 3½ games of Sacramento for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot, pending the Kings’ late-night game against the Hawks.
The win was New Orleans’ fourth in five games, and the Pelicans improved to 2-0 on a seven-game homestand.
“We’re just playing desperate,” Davis said. “That’s it. We’re playing a lot harder. Lot of energy. That’s how we got to play from here on out. In a couple weeks, we’ll see where our season goes, if it’s going to be just playing out or we’re going to be in the race and every game matters.”