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 highlights on both ends of the floor, from alley-oop dunks to a block that ignited a fast break.
Undrafted rookie Jose Alvarado — affectionately known by teammates and fans as “Grand Theft Alvarado” — lived up to that moniker with a career-high six steals to go with 16 points and 10 assists, his first career double-double. 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.
One such sequence came when Alvarado corralled an errant pass and fed Hayes for a breakaway dunk in which he put the ball under 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.
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 and got loose underneath for dunks and putbacks as well.
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. ... Christian Wood had 12 rebounds. ... 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. ... Willy Hernangomez scored 12 points while 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.
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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