Valanciunas, Hayes power Pelicans past Rockets, 130-105
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jonas Valanciunas had 32 points and 10 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans emphatically snapped a four-game skid with a 130-105 victory over the Houston Rockets on Sunday night.
Jaxson Hayes scored for 21 points for New Orleans, energizing his team with the type of crowd-stirring plays that the 6-foot-11, 2019 eighth overall draft choice has begun converting more frequently lately. His highlights included an off-balance transition floater as he was fouled, a pair of wing 3-pointers and above-the-rim prowess on both ends, from alley-oop dunks to a block that ignited a fast break.
“The ball finds energy and he had great energy tonight,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “Everybody who played came in and played with purpose. Just beautiful basketball to watch when we do it together like that.”
Undrafted rookie Jose Alvarado — affectionately known as “Grand Theft Alvarado” since playing at Georgia Tech — lived up to that moniker with a career-high six steals to go with 16 points and 10 assists, his first career double-double.
“To get my first double-double, it’s pretty cool,” Alvarado said. “I’m just happy I’m here.”
Naji Marshall, starting because of Brandon Ingram’s hamstring injury, had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Jalen Green scored 17 points for Houston, which lost its third in four games, and David Nwaba added 15. The Rockets pushed the pace and exploited Pelicans defensive miscues for a number of uncontested dunks and layups, but also turned the ball over 25 times, leading to 30 New Orleans points.
“It was just really just the carelessness. All the careless turnovers that we had just made it kind of difficult,” said Rockets center Christian Wood, who had 12 rebounds. “Then they got out in transition, and we just did a bad job at getting back.”
One such sequence came when Alvarado corralled an errant pass and fed Hayes for a breakaway dunk in which he put the ball between his legs as he rose toward the rim before jamming it home with one hand. The crowd roared its approval as Hayes turned toward the stands with both arms raised.
“As soon as (Alvarado) threw it, I just looked around and didn’t see anybody,” Hayes said. “I was like, ‘All right, might as well try it.’
“Whenever we’re running, that’s when I’m at my best,” Hayes added.
The Rockets led by as many as six points in the first half, but the Pelicans surged into the lead for good with a 9-0 run in the middle of the second quarter that began with Marshall’s three-point play and included two baskets by Valanciunas, who was virtually unstoppable when Houston left him guarded by a single defender.
Valanciunas did much of his scoring on an array of bank shots and hooks from within 15 feet. He also got loose underneath for dunks and putbacks and made all seven of his free throws.
New Orleans led by as many as 13 points before halftime and pulled away by as many as 30 in the fourth quarter.
Rockets: Shot 50.6% (39 of 77) overall and 38.7% from 3 (12 of 31). ... Jae’Sean Tate scored 14 points and Josh Christopher scored 13 points. ... Christopher and Kevin Porter Jr. each committed five turnovers.
Pelicans: Were without their top two scorers for a second straight game with Ingram missing his fourth straight overall and CJ McCollum missing his second straight since being placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. ... The Pelicans’ 17 steals were a season high. ... Willy Hernangomez scored 12 points and Devonte’ Graham added 10. ... Have won five of their past six matchups with Houston. ... Shot 51.6% (48 of 93) but struggled from 3-point range (10 of 32), as they have all season.
Alvarado rated Hayes’ breakaway, between-the-legs dunk a “10 out of 10.”
“That boy is different,” Alvarado said. “He should be in the dunk contest. He just does it so easily.”
Added Green: “Whatever he did on the fast break — that’s just hard to do.”
Wood was back in the lineup after missing three games with a non-COVID-19 illness and played nearly 26 minutes.
“I definitely felt winded and out of rhythm,” Wood said.
Houston was further hampered inside because reserve center Alperen Sengun fouled out in less than 15 minutes of action.
Rockets: Host Phoenix on Wednesday night in the first of four straight at home.
Pelicans: Host Phoenix on Tuesday night in the last of four straight home games.
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