A healthy roster was on the floor. A losing opponent was in town.
It was the type of recipe the Pelicans should crave. But, in a season when nothing has been simple, much less predictable, New Orleans refused to take it for granted.
And that, on its own, is a newsworthy event, even if it doesn’t sound like one.
For the first time in four games, the Pelicans took care of home court by knocking off the Charlotte Hornets 109-107 on Friday night at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans (13-26) built a victory steadily, methodically and effectively, but it took a lob from Jrue Holiday to Antony Davis in the final two seconds to seal a much-needed victory.
It was the Pelicans’ second consecutive win on the heels of a four-game losing streak.
“It was really important, because we needed to build off of last game, and this is a small stretch in the season, but a great stretch where we mixed together playing the way we need to,” Pelicans’ leading scorer Ryan Anderson said. “It is incredibly positive, and it’s fun. It’s the way we’ve been practicing, and it’s the way we know we need to play.”
New Orleans swatted away the hot-shooting Hornets (18-21), with a barrage of buckets from Anderson, who came off of the bench to notch a game-high 32 points on just 19 shots. Anthony Davis chipped in with 22, including four in the final minute, but Anderson controlled the ball for most of the second and third quarters.
The Hornets made a fourth-quarter charge on the back two last-minute shots from Kemba Walker. But buckets by Alonzo Gee, Jrue Holiday and Davis’ heroics helped hold them off. Nicolas Batum’s last-second shot from the corner rimmed out, allowing New Orleans to finally exhale.
On top of the action, there was also a shakeup in the Pelicans’ backcourt rotations.
Tyreke Evans entered the evening listed as questionable on the injury report with knee tendinitis which kept him out for all but six minutes in New Orleans’ 109-97 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night. It was the 19th time this season when his right knee sidelined him, including the first 17 games after arthroscopic surgery.
While Evans was able to get his knee drained and re-take the floor to start Friday’s game, coach Alvin Gentry said he will re-evaluate Evans’ minutes, pulling back on his playing time in an effort to keep him healthier.
“With him, with his knee in the situation it is, I’m going to try to keep him probably to less minutes than I’ve had him to see if that will help at all,” Gentry said. “When he’s out there, he goes all out. What I have to do is maybe kind of limit the long stretches of minutes he’s been playing and see if that can help some.”
Evans logged 26 minutes on Friday night, scoring 12 and dishing seven assists, largely splitting point guard possessions with Holiday, who interchanged at the position until the final five minutes.
Beyond the issues of health and inconsistent effort, the Pelicans’ offensive woes have stemmed from poor shooting. While Charlotte drilled seven of its first 10 3-point attempts, propping up its blistering 48.8 percent for the night.
Anderson’s hot shooting was enough to overcome it, drilling seven of his first 10 shots including a quartet of 3-pointers to carry New Orleans’ offense, scoring 21 first half points.
Anderson added to his highlight reel when he travelled the length of the floor, shook a defender with an around-the-back dribble, and drilled a fade-away 3-pointer off of one leg as the third-quarter buzzer sounded.
Those kinds of stretches evaded the Pelicans most of this month.
New Orleans entered the night converting just 41.5 percent of its field goals over the past seven games, which ranks just No. 27 in the NBA, despite a roster that’s built to score in bunches and from a variety of spots on the floor.
But it’s not just a recent phenomenon. Of the six Pelicans who have attempted at least 200 shots, only Anthony Davis is making more than 43 percent of his attempts.
Several Pelicans said that Friday night was a perfect illustration of how those statistics can be reversed through ball movement. New Orleans’ crisp passing led to 29 assists and 49 percent shooting.
“It’s a must for us to move the ball and when we do, we are really hard to stop,” guard Eric Gordon said. “We have so many guys who can score, so we just have to keep on harping on it. Because if we don’t, it’s almost an automatic loss. But if you keep moving like that, everybody is happy and we’ll win.”