NEW YORK — Despite having three key players sidelined with injuries, the New Orleans Pelicans have begun to realize they can play team basketball down the stretch and remain in the playoff hunt. They didn’t need a dominant night from Anthony Davis to dominate the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.
Instead, the Pelicans put six players in double figures, including all five starters, as they cruised to their third straight win and eighth in their past 10 with an impressive 111-91 victory that capped an undefeated two-games-in-as-many-nights road trip.
New Orleans (36-29) moved into a virtual tie with idle Oklahoma City (35-28) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Brooklyn (25-37) was led by Brooke Lopez and Jarrett Jack, who each scored 15 points. The Pelicans will have four days off before returning to the Smoothie King Center to host Denver on Sunday.
Quincy Pondexter and Alexis Ajinca paced the Pelicans with 17 points apiece. Eric Gordon and Norris Cole each added 16, and Omer Asik had 12 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
Davis, who had eight points at halftime, finished with 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocks. He had 43 points in a 114-103 win over Milwaukee on Monday night and had averaged 33 points and 11 rebounds in his previous four games. He left the game early in the fourth quarter after being hit in the eye.
“Somebody really clocked him in the eye,” coach Monty Williams said. “He played through it for a while, and once we got the big lead, we took him out.”
Cole replaced starting point guard Tyreke Evans, who left Monday’s game with a left ankle injury, did not play Tuesday and is day-to-day. Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson also remain sidelined.
The Pelicans received a boost from their bench, which contributed 35 points.
“We need to get some guys healthy, and it will be a nice break for us until Sunday,” Williams said. “We needed a road mentality to finish up this trip. But we have allowed some guys to get some valuable experience. We had good ball movement tonight, and we have put together two nice wins on the road. Our bench also got us going.”
The Pelicans were a little sluggish in the first three minutes, but Gordon hit a driving layup in the closing seconds that narrowed the gap to 27-23. They continued their surge and went on a 17-8 run in the last five minutes of the half to build a 55-46 halftime lead, which they never relinquished.
Ajinca, who came off the bench to score 11 of his first-half 13 points in the second quarter, said he sees the team evolving into a playoff squad.
“This just shows we have a lot of character,” he said. “We were more aggressive in the second quarter and didn’t let them run. Our zone defense also helped. I have been working on my post moves, and it has been starting to pay off for me lately. We really don’t care about what the other teams are doing; we just have to worry about what we can do.”
The Pelicans scored the first eight points of the third quarter to take a commanding 63-47 lead; Brooklyn missed its first eight shots and appeared listless. The Pelicans ballooned their lead to 70-50 when Cole drilled a long-range 3-pointer from the corner, then flipped Davis a pass in the air that led to a thunderous dunk. New Orleans shot 51.7 percent from the field for the game.
Brooklyn continued to struggle and couldn’t get into a rhythm as it managed just 15 points in the third quarter, while the Pelicans continued with a balanced attack and had a 78-61 cushion at the start of the fourth.
“We’re a very talented team, and we’re getting better,” said Gordon, who also had a team-high seven assists. “We have been in a lot of games. Tonight, we got things going in the second quarter. We’re playing together right now.”
Pondexter, who celebrated his 27th birthday, said he likes the direction of this team.
“We’re playing very unselfish,” he said. “We’re getting scoring balance, and we have to stay with it. We have been stressing a real emphasis on sharing the ball.
“We’re ready to make a playoff run.”