In the midst of a topsy-turvy season, the New Orleans Pelicans may have found a pivot point Wednesday night.
They emphatically halted a four-game losing streak, turning a 20-point first-half lead into a walkaway 125-104 win over the Washington Wizards at the Smoothie King Center.
They leaned on their stars to do it. Just two nights after getting blown out on their home floor, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Julius Randle took charge, each scoring 23 or more points, led by Holiday’s game-best 29.
“This was probably one of the better games we’ve had this season, just moving the basketball and playing for each other on both ends of the floor,” Davis said. “When we do that, we are a tough team to beat. But we have to do it more consistently.”
Now the Pelicans hope their season-long pattern emerges in the aftermath.
New Orleans opened the season by trading a four-game winning streak for a six-game losing streak, then flipped that skid into winning six of their next seven and rising into the upper half of the Western Conference.
Then they followed it by compiling the most-recent string of four losses.
Is knocking out the Wizards enough to mark another turnaround?
It certainly appeared to be a corner-turning kind of night.
The Pelicans shook off their stretch of first-quarter stagnation (where they’d allowed an average 35.8 points over the past eight games) by racing out to a 27-15 lead, charged by Holiday’s hot start. He piled up 14 points on just eight shots in the game’s opening 10 minutes, maximizing New Orleans’ notable lineup adjustment.
Sparsely used point guard Tim Frazier started for the first time in nearly a month, pushing Holiday into his preferred off-ball spot. And he took full advantage, happy to be relieved from the distributing duties.
“Jrue likes to play off of the ball,” Davis said. “He’ll tell you every day of the week he wants to play off the ball. He knows where his strengths are. He hates playing point. He’s not a point guard. He likes playing off the ball, being the 2 and being aggressive.”
It showed Wednesday.
New Orleans used a variety of ball-handlers alongside Holiday, starting with Fraizer. And not only did Holiday use the freedom to attack the rim offensively, he helped swarm the Wizards’ All-Star backcourt of Bradley Beal and John Wall.
New Orleans held both players to fewer than 18 points, including a combined 1-for-11 on 3-pointers. It highlighted the Pelicans’ strong defensive effort, suffocating the Wizards to just 43-percent shooting and 33 percent on 3-pointers.
Frazier did more than aid Holiday, though. The former Wizard used his quick burst and decisive passing to carve up Washington for 12 points, 11 assists and six rebounds, helping key many of the Pelicans’ 26 fast-break points.
“That was my job,” Frazier said. “Coach said he needed me to push the pace and get the guys moving fast. So I was trying to push the ball as fast I can.”
The Pelicans finished from the start Wednesday.
They won the first quarter 31-24 and piled on in the second, extending the lead to 67-47 at halftime. While the Wizards were able to slice the Pelicans’ advantage down to 11 midway through the third quarter, a Nikola Mirotic straightaway 3-pointer at the buzzer pushed it back to 19.
New Orleans never broke a sweat again, thanks to owning a 28-9 edge in second-chance points and 26-8 advantage on fast breaks.
In fact, the Wizards benched Beal and Wall for the final six minutes entirely, allowing their bench to mop up the blowout.
Now the Pelicans will head to the road, hoping to snap a four-game skid away from the Smoothie King Center.
They’ve already stopped one streak.
“Now we just have to do this for 48 minutes,” Davis said. “And especially on the road.”