Pelicans reserve Josh Hart went from being questionable to play with back spams to scrapping for 40 minutes because of Zion Williamson’s early foul trouble.
“He played probably way too many minutes,” Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said. “But I wasn’t going to take him out because he was doing a great, great job.”
“Luckily, I didn’t go out too often, so I didn’t have the risk of me getting cold and then locking back up,” Hart said as the team prepared to head straight from the arena to the airport for a road trip. “Being able to go out there and help the team — obviously, it was a pretty good game — so it felt amazing, felt good. I’m only worried that, hopefully my back doesn’t lock up on this plane ride.”
Brandon Ingram scored 22 and Williamson added 20 points, seven assists, five rebounds and a steal despite being limited to 20 minutes on the court, which might prove beneficial with New Orleans playing on back-to-back nights.
Willy Hernangomez added 14 points and 10 rebounds in a reserve role and Lonzo Ball capped his 15-point night with a back-breaking 3 as New Orleans pulled away in the fourth quarter.
John Wall scored 25 points, routinely beating defenders off the dribble and finishing near the basket. Eric Gordon 23 for Houston, which lost its third straight.
Houston coach Stephen Silas took issue with his team’s defense, citing the Pelicans’ 60 points in the paint and 18 second-chance points.
“If we’re not committed to stopping people like we have been up until this point, it’s going to be hard for us to win,” Silas said. “A lot of points in the paint or rebounding isn’t necessarily a technical or a schematic thing. It’s: Go and get the ball. Get the ball out of the middle of the paint.”
Whatever pain Hart was in didn’t show. He threw down several driving one-handed dunks, made three 3-points and even blocked two shots to go with a steal.
“Josh always plays hard,” Williamson said. “He always sacrifices his body for the sake of the team. To see Josh do that, we’re all happy for him.”
New Orleans led by 20 when Ball’s 3 made it 82-62 in the third quarter. Wall scored six and Sterling Brown hit a pair of 3s to help Houston cut it to 92-81 heading into the fourth quarter. But New Orleans never let Houston get within 10 in the final period, going up 112-97 on Ball’s deep 3 with 4:55 left.
Van Gundy said Ball “controlled that game down the stretch and made sure that we took care of the ball, made sure that we got the ball where it needed to go.”
Rockets: Danuel House Jr. and Jae’Sean Tate each scored 13. Brown scored 11. … Houston was 13 of 43 from 3-point range. … Center Christian Wood, who had 27 points and nine rebounds in the previous meeting, missed his third straight game with a right ankle sprain. … Silas received a technical foul after yelling at officials for failing to call a foul when Gordon had shot blocked by Steven Adams.
Pelicans: First-round draft pick Kira Lewis Jr. and Eric Bledsoe each scored 10 points. … The Pelicans hit 12 of 31 3-point attempts. … New Orleans outrebounded Houston 55-37. … The Pelicans combined for 31 assists on 47 made baskets.
Williamson, who’s been increasingly initiating New Orleans’ offense by handling the ball on the perimeter, had 10 points, four assists, a rebound and a steal in the first half despite playing just more than four minutes in the first quarter and less than two in the second.
Still, the Pelicans opened up a double-digit lead, going on a 17-0 run in the second quarter during which Hart scored 10 points on a driving dunk, a 3, a driving layup while he was fouled, and after he missed the free-throw, a floating put-back as he was fouled for a 3-point play.
The spurt put the Pelicans up 61-43 and they led 63-50 at halftime.
After scoring 120 points twice in their first 15 games, the Pelicans have scored 123 or more four times in their last eight.
“I’ve had zero to do with that. Our guys have just gotten comfortable playing together,” Van Gundy said. “We’re making plays for each other. We’re getting higher quality shots.”
Rockets: Hosts Miami on Thursday night before flying east for three straight road games.
Pelicans: Visits Chicago on Wednesday night for the first of four straight on the road.