Zion-less Pelicans top Wizards behind Holiday
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida — Jrue Holiday scored 28 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Washington Wizards 118-107 without star rookie Zion Williamson on Friday night, improving their chances of earning a Western Conference playoff spot.
Williamson, the top pick in the 2019 NBA draft, rested. The Pelicans continued their practice of holding him out of the second game of back-to-backs, as they did before the hiatus while managing his recovery from a right meniscus tear. Williamson also left the team three weeks ago to attend to a family medical matter, which has affected his conditioning.
Without him, the Pelicans still shot 48 percent. New Orleans is 2 1/2 games behind eighth-place Memphis in the West and 1 1/2 games behind ninth-place Portland with three games remaining. To force a play-in, a team must be in ninth place and within four games of the eighth-place team.
“I feel like today, man, we played desperate,” Holiday said. “We were aggressive today, which was awesome.”
The Pelicans were coming off a 140-125 loss to Sacramento on Thursday, so better defense was a focal point.
“We did a much, much better job of keeping the ball out of the paint, and then we did a much better job of challenging shots,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Overall, I thought we were much, much better defensively.”
Rui Hachimura scored 23 points, Thomas Bryant scored 22 and Troy Brown Jr. added 20 points and 10 rebounds for Washington. The Wizards fell to 0-5 in the restart and are too far behind Orlando in the Eastern Conference standings to force a play-in.
“We’re not winning any games,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “Nobody’s happy with that, but I’m happy with the progress we can see on both ends.”
The Wizards led 56-54 at halftime, but the Pelicans took control for good in the third quarter and led 91-81 heading into the fourth.
The Wizards want to make the most of their final three games in Florida.
“We have a job to do,” Brown said. “There’s a bigger picture to things. We’re going to lead by example. We’re going to go out here and try to win games, and regardless of the outcome, we’re going to go out here and play our hardest.”
Pelicans: Made 6 of 12 3-pointers in the third quarter. … Derrick Favors had 12 points and 10 rebounds. … Frank Jackson had a +30 plus/minus score. He finished with 13 points in just over 20 minutes. … Got away with committing 18 turnovers.
Wizards: Shot 51% in the first half, but just 25% in the third quarter. … Ish Smith had 18 points and 10 assists. … Made 21 of 23 free throws.
Rookie Nicolo Melli was one of the reserves who gave New Orleans a spark in the third quarter. He had eight points on 3-for-3 shooting in the period.
Jackson and Josh Hart also helped the Pelicans take charge of the game.
“It definitely started on the defensive end when that second group came in during the third quarter,” Holiday said. “They gave us a big push and started our momentum shift and everything trickled down to the offensive end and we were in a rhythm.”
Melli: “We needed this win. This was the most important thing. No matter how, no matter what, and we did it.”
Pelicans: Play the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.
Wizards: Play the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.
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