The New Orleans Pelicans' road victory Tuesday over red-hot James Harden and the Houston Rockets was a welcome relief and cause for some hope.
Wednesday’s game in the Smoothie King Center against the Denver Nuggets brought more of the same, but without an additional mark in the win column.
After leading the Nuggets by three points at halftime, the Pelicans fell apart in the third quarter, and rookie Kenrich Williams’ career night wasn’t enough down the stretch to keep the home team afloat in a 105-99 loss — New Orleans' sixth in eight games.
Coming off a career-high eight points in Tuesday’s 121-116 win at Houston, Williams was the catalyst that kept the injury-riddled Pelicans afloat both early and late against Denver. He exploded for 21 points and set personal bests in field goals (eight), 3-pointers (five), assists (three) and minutes (38).
Williams got extended playing time because of New Orleans’ injury woes, as the Pelicans are missing four of the their five regular starters.
Williams had played double-digit minutes just three times before Tuesday. But he impressed his teammates, including locker-room leader Jrue Holiday, with his ability to bring into a game what his teammates have seen all season.
“As a team, we’re trying to feed off each other and help each other out, and I think everyone is adding to the game in the way they can,” Holiday said. “But (Kenrich) getting a chance after a back-to-back to perform a lot — a lot of guys haven’t really had a chance to play 36 minutes the night before and then 38 minutes the next game against two really good teams. I’m really proud, and I think tonight was a positive outcome.”
After the Pelicans were outscored 33-19 in the third quarter, Williams’ savvy beyond the arc in the early minutes of the fourth period gave the home fans some hope.
The Pelicans trailed 86-75 when Williams, a TCU alum, scored the first five points of the quarter, then followed Ian Clark’s 3 with one of his own, bringing New Orleans within two points, 88-86. Williams answered Malik Beasley’s 3-pointer with another of his own, keeping the Pelicans within striking distance.
“I thought he did a great job,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said of Williams’ performance. “The one thing that you find out in all this is guys have an opportunity, and some guys really take advantage of it. Last night he had 16 rebounds, and tonight he makes five 3s. You give those guys an opportunity, and you’re happy when they take advantage of it.”
But the Pelicans’ injury woes began to show their impact, as the Nuggets reeled off a late 7-2 run that proved to be too much — even as Clark and Holiday’s back-to-back 3-pointers put the Pelicans within one, 100-99.
Nikola Jokic followed with a pair of baskets in the paint, putting an exclamation point on Denver’s 62-42 scoring advantage down low Wednesday night. He finished with 20 points on 9-of-16 shooting to go with 13 rebounds and 10 assists for a triple-double.
“You can see what kind of player he (Jokic) is when they need baskets,” Gentry said. “They went to him, and it’s hard to then go get the ball out of his hands because he’s such a good passer, but I was proud of the way our guys played. We competed like crazy, and that’s all we can do right now.”
Malik Beasley led the Nuggets with a team-high 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc off the bench. Monte Morris added 20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Holiday finished with a team-high 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including a trio of 3s, to go with six rebounds and six assists.
Jahlil Okafor, who scored a career-high 27 on 11-of-15 shooting and added 12 rebounds Tuesday at Houston, followed with a solid game against Denver. He 14 points and eight rebounds.
Since Davis’ injury six games ago, the fourth-year forward out of Duke is averaging 20 points, more than eight points above his 11.8 career average.