Ball was on fire early, making all four of his 3-point attempts in the first quarter in his return after missing seven games with a hip injury. He cooled off after that and didn’t hit from long range again until the third quarter, when he made two. He had nine assists, and his 27 points tied a season-best on a night he outdid his previous career mark of seven 3s, which he’d accomplished four times.
“What Lonzo has done over the past two years to improve his shooting is one of the best stories in the league … that’s a hard thing to do,” New Orleans coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He made a total overhaul of his shot. Now he’s just a great shooter.”
Kelly Olynyk got the Rockets within four with two free throws with about 2 ½ minutes to go, but Ball’s eighth 3-pointer made it 116-109. Jae’Sean Tate added a 3 for Houston seconds later, and Ball left the game soon after with cramps.
Willy Hernangomez made a dunk with less than a minute to go to push the lead to 118-112.
“It was a great win to get,” Van Gundy said. “We made some plays down the stretch and got some stops. We fought hard and got some rebounds and that’s what really matters.”
Olynyk had a season-high 26 points in his second 20-point game in the five games since he was traded to Houston from Miami. The Rockets lost their fourth straight.
Houston coach Stephen Silas is disappointed that his team has lost focus late in several close losses recently.
“This is the learning process we go through,” he said. “We have to learn it’s about winning in the fourth quarter. Up and down with the emotions, we can’t let that distract us when we’re trying to win a game in the fourth.”
Kenyon Martin Jr. had three dunks in less than two minutes to power an 8-4 run that put the Rockets up 102-97 with about 7 ½ minutes to go. The Pelicans used a 10-2 spurt after that, highlighted by a 3 from Ball, to take a 107-104 lead with about four minutes remaining.
The Pelicans had a six-point lead with about 2 ½ minutes left in the third, but the Rockets scored the last nine points of the period, with 3s from D.J. Wilson and D.J. Augustin to take a 92-89 lead into the fourth quarter.
Ball’s big night came in a game where all five starters finished with at least 10 points. Eric Bledsoe had 19, James Johnson added 18, Jaxson Hayes had 11, and Steven Adams had 12 with 11 rebounds.
“I was just proud of the guys,” Ball said. “We all played hard. No matter what was going on out there, we banded together as a team and got the win.”
Pelicans: Zion Williamson missed his third straight game with a strained right thumb. … Brandon Ingram sat out for a third consecutive game with a toe injury. … Nickeil Alexander-Walker injured his lower leg in the second quarter and returned to make one of two free throws after he was fouled on the play but sat out the rest of the game.
Rockets: John Wall was out for a third straight game because of fluid in his right knee. … Danuel House Jr. sprained his right ankle in the second quarter and didn’t return.
Gold medal winning Olympic gymnast Simone Biles attended Sunday night’s game and received a warm ovation when she was introduced during a timeout in the first half.
Pelicans: Visit Atlanta on Tuesday night.
Rockets: Host Phoenix on Monday night.