NEW ORLEANS (AP) — CJ McCollum scored 28 points and the short-handed Pelicans opened up a 31-point lead en route to a 119-108 victory over the struggling Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.
Jonas Valanciunas had 16 points and 17 rebounds for New Orleans. The Pelicans snapped a two-game skid in their first game since learning star power forward Zion Williamson would be sidelined about three weeks by a strained right hamstring.
“No one person is going to replace what he does,” McCollum said. “It’s about everybody collectively playing better, playing smarter, executing the game plan and understanding our room for error is smaller.”
McCollum’s ability to set the tone with other top producers out of the lineup is “the reason he’s the leader he is,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “He was locked in from the start on both ends of the floor, sharing the basketball, making shots. He understands the situation.”
Jalen Green and Kenyon Martin Jr. each scored 16 points for Houston, with Martin hitting all seven of his shots.
Jabari Smith Jr. had 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Eric Gordon and Alperen Sengun each added 13 points for the Rockets. They dropped their fifth straight game and lost for the 10th time in 11 contests.
New Orleans raced to a 45-22 lead in the first quarter, during which Rockets coach Stephen Silas was ejected for arguing and gesticulating angrily toward officials.
“I don’t necessarily think me being off the floor makes us play better, but we needed something,” Silas said. “ I was disappointed with how we started the game.”
Kevin Porter Jr. said he was gratified to see Silas “fighting for his players.”
“The game started off with a bunch of questionable calls and coach’s frustration came out,” Porter said. “We love that he fought for us and he doesn’t want us to be the one to be ejected or getting technicals. So, he took that one for us.”
The Pelicans’ led 63-32 after one of Jose Alvarado’s three 3-pointers. New Orleans led 75-52 at the half and 98-73 after the third quarter before stagnating so much in the final period that Green had to bring McCollum and Valanciunas back into the game with 7:41 to go.
The Rockets continued to close the gap, getting as close as 115-108 on Josh Christopher’s driving scoop with 47 seconds left.
“We have to be better closing out games,” Green said. “We had three quarters where we dominated and we looked like us and we kind of let of the gas in the fourth quarter.”
Naji Marshall scored 16 points, while Trey Murphy III and Willy Hernangomez each added 14 points for New Orleans, which is off to its best start at home in franchise history at 17-4.
Murphy highlighted his performance with a sequence in which he blocked Sengun’s shot from behind, then ran the length of the court to convert a bounce-pass from Marshall into a reverse dunk.
Alvarado finished with 13 points.
“It’s never good when you see somebody go down, but that’s why we have 12 players on the team,” Valanciunas said. “I’m really proud of our group.
“We just enjoy playing, no matter who’s on the court,” Valanciunas continued. “We’re just having fun. That’s the best way to play, I think.”
Rockets: Porter scored 11 points. … Shot 44.3% (39 of 88) overall and 31.6% (12 of 38) from 3-point range. … Finished with 41 bench points. … Fell to 4-16 on the road.
Pelicans: F Brandon Ingram missed his 19th straight game because of a left great toe contusion. … F Larry Nance Jr. missed his fourth straight game with a sore right shoulder. … Converted 13 Rockets turnovers into 25 points. … Shot 36.8% (14 of 38) from deep.
Rockets: Host Utah on Thursday night.
Pelicans: Host Brooklyn on Friday night.
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