With its big, strong front line, the Washington Wizards had the answer for the New Orleans Pelicans’ penchant for scoring in the lane.
The Wizards denied the Pelicans inside, forcing outside jump shots, and kept them on their heels with their own offensive execution before holding them off in the fourth quarter in taking a 92-85 victory.
“Their defense was really good,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “I’ve never been in a game where I saw so many bad bounces go against us.
“Bad situations where we foul with 1.9 seconds on the shot clock, and I didn’t think it was a foul. Couple that with 18 turnovers. They were really physical against us, and it knocked us out of rhythm.”
The loss spoiled the return of guard Eric Gordon, who had missed the previous 21 games with a torn left labrum. Gordon scored six points on 2-of-8 shooting in 32 minutes, 52 seconds.
The Pelicans (17-17) saw their three-game home winning streak snapped and lost at home to an Eastern Conference team for the first time after four wins. The loss marked the 10th consecutive game in which New Orleans failed to get back-to-back victories, the league’s longest current streak.
The Wizards (23-12) ended a three-game losing streak, winning both games of the season series with New Orleans and salvaging the trip with a 2-3 record.
As much as the Pelicans struggled, the game wasn’t decided until the last 30 seconds. Former Rasual Butler, a former New Orleans Hornets player, hit one of two free throws with 29.9 seconds left. Then Jrue Holiday missed on a drive 10 seconds later.
That ended any chance, coming after a late flurry that included two dunks by Anthony Davis that brought the Pelicans to 89-85. That was before Davis, trying to get a steal, was called for fouling Butler at mid-court at 29.9.
For the second time in the fourth quarter, Ryan Anderson sank a 3 pointer, this one bringing the Pelicans to 81-77 at 5:13. But Washington came up with two hustle plays.
Bradley Beal missed a 3-point attempt, and Kris Humphries went high for a tip-in at 4:29. Less than a minute later, the Wizards appeared to have turned the ball over. However, Nene came up with the loose ball, and with the Pelicans heading up court, passed to Humphries alone for a dunk and an 83-77 lead that prompted a timeout.
The Pelicans had closed to 69-67 on a 3-pointer by Anderson one minute into the fourth quarter, the closest they’d gotten to the Wizards since 5½ minutes remained in the first quarter.
But that’s when cagey 15-year veteran backup point guard Andre Miller went to work. Guarded mostly by Austin Rivers, Miller scored eight of the Wizards’ next 10 points on short jumpers, spinning and leaning back. At the 7:45 mark, Washington had regained control, 79-70.
Miller scored 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting in 14:13.
“The rhythm of the game just allowed me to go down there and make a couple of plays,” Miller said. “Home teams tend to find a way to make a run. We found a way to hold them off. We tried to make the game simple and make plays within the offense.”
And with their defense. The Pelicans were unable to get over the hump much of the game because of Washington’s effectively closing off the lane with big Marcin Gortat, Nene and Kevin Seraphin underneath. That was a big reason the Wizards were able to keep the game’s tempo much to their liking and the Pelicans off-balance.
“We have a big, physical front line,” Butler said. “We knew that with Davis, (Jrue) Holiday, Evans and with Gordon back, they live in the lane. We did a good job of helping each other out.”
However, the Pelicans slowed the Wizards’ waltzes into the lane, holding them to four points in the paint in the third, and that was a big reason they were able to stay close.
The Wizards forged a 52-44 halftime lead on the strength of pick-and-roll plays and their fast break with lightning quick point guard John Wall, who had 11 points and an eye-catching nine assists.
Wall, who leads the league in assists, finished with 15 points, 12 assists and four steals.
New Orleans had closed to 43-40, but Washington ended the half on a 9-4 burst, with Wall getting into the lane. He sank two free throws after being fouled by Gordon on a jumper in the lane, and sank a floater. He also assisted Gortat for two scores on rolls to the basket.
Before the game, the Pelicans had a moment of silence for Stuart Scott, an ESPN anchor for 21 years who died of cancer on Sunday. When the moment ended, a group of fans yelled Scott’s signature “Boo-ya.” … Tyreke Evans was not in the starting lineup. He entered the game at 6:48 of the first quarter. However, he started the third quarter after scoring 11 first-half points. ... Wizards assistant coach Donald Newman was a standout guard at Brother Martin High School in New Orleans, helping the Crusaders to the Class 4A title in 1974 during his junior year. He was All-Metro as a senior. … Baton Rouge native and former LSU guard Garrett Temple is a backup guard with the Wizards. He said more than 40 relatives and friends attended the game. … Since the 2002-03 season when the franchise moved to New Orleans, Monday’s game marked just the third time the Pelicans and Wizards have had winning records when the teams met. The Pelicans had won the previous two.