For the New Orleans Pelicans, it’s next man up as they forge ahead in an important three-game home stretch.
This time, it was small forward Quincy Pondexter’s turn. Pondexter had a career-high 25 points, and the Pelicans turned back the Brooklyn Nets 102-96 on Wednesday night at Smoothie King Center.
Pondexter said he had motivation. First, a reporter suggested his 3-of-12 shooting in the two previous games may have been a slump. And, the TV station carrying the game had him mic’d.
“I didn’t play well in the last two games, and I didn’t want to be the reason our team lost,” Pondexter said. “Guys were finding me, and it just one of those nights that happened. I was just playing within the game and hoping to get our team a win.”
It was the third consecutive victory for the Pelicans (30-27), ninth in the Western Conference and their second in this home stand, as they moved to two games behind idle Oklahoma City in the battle for the eighth and final playoff berth. The Thunder plays Thursday night at Phoenix, which is in 10th place.
The Nets (23-32), who came into the game in the eighth spot in the East, had won their previous two games.
Pondexter’s performance was highlighted by 4-of-8 3-point shooting, including the clincher from the left corner with 49.9 seconds left that gave New Orleans a 101-93 lead. He led an 11-of-25 (44.0 percent) performance from behind the arc by the Pelicans that offset 20 turnovers that led to 18 points by the Nets.
Also key was a 43-37 rebounding edge that included holding the Nets to 15 rebounds in the second half, including just two offensive.
And the ball movement was crisp, leading to 26 assists, as the Pelicans shot 51.4 percent, including 58.8 in the fourth quarter.
Luke Babbitt, the star of Monday night’s big win over Toronto, hit two big shots in the run that helped secure the win. With the Pelicans clinging to an 83-82 lead, he sank a right-corner 3 with nine minutes left. He followed with another one from the left corner at 5:15 and the Pelicans scored on a fast break for a 93-82 margin.
Brooklyn came to 98-93, but that’s when Pondexter sealed the win.
“They just kept coming,” said Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins. “It was 81-80, and we couldn’t score and couldn’t get stops. We didn’t switch on the (Babbitt 3) where we had talked about it in practice (Wednesday) morning.”
The Pelicans had taken a 76-73 lead into the fourth quarter, but not before finding a way to slow Nets guard/forward Joe Johnson.
Johnson answered nearly every basket during a stretch from midway of the third quarter to about the two-minute mark, getting 12 points. However, the Pelicans switched to an old-fashioned 2-1-2, and he didn’t score the rest of the quarter.
“We just had to find some way to break his rhythm,” Coach Monty Williams said. “But we were able to get stops when we needed to and get the win.”
All eight Pelicans who played in the first half scored, and they needed every point in taking a 53-50 halftime lead.
New Orleans was able to fend off Brooklyn on the strength of 7-of-16 (43.8 percent) 3-point shooting and 8-of-9 free-throw shooting. That helped offset 10 turnovers and the play off the bench of Nets center Brook Lopez and power forward Thaddeus Young.
Lopez, who since Jan. 1 has led the NBA in points off the bench at 16.7 per game, had 15 points and five rebounds. Young, known more for his defense against stretch fours, had 13 points and four rebounds. They impacted the game with five rebound baskets between them, negating a size and athleticism advantage New Orleans enjoyed through much of the first quarter in taking control.
However, the Pelicans had an answer from the perimeter. Cole shot 2-of-3 on 3s, Pondexter 2-of-4 and Gordon 2-of-5.
Pondexter had 13 points in the half, including 11 in the first quarter when he made two of the Pelicans’ three 3-pointers, and the Nets didn’t make any. That proved to be the difference in New Orleans leading 27-21 at quarter’s end.
The Pelicans have one roster spot remaining and are among the NBA teams looking to sign for Detroit Piston guard Will Bynum. Bynum plays with the Guangdong Foshan Tigers, who are playing for the Chinese Basketball Association championship. He has averaged 23.5 points and 8.9 assists. He played from 2008-14 with Detroit. … Nets starting shooting guard Markel Brown is from Alexandria. He is a rookie from Oklahoma State.