New Orleans put an end to a rough six-game losing streak, defeating the Chicago Bulls 107-98 while led by strong performances from its two biggest stars.
Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday fronted the charge towards a much-needed win after the team struggled mightily on a long road trip this past week.
Holiday assumes a lot of responsibility, typically guarding the opposing team’s best player and currently also having to fill the void left by Elfrid Payton’s absence. Nonetheless, he carried the workload in his 38 minutes and finished one assist shy of a triple-double against Chicago at 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine dimes.
Despite falling into a shooting slump on the road, Davis returned to his MVP-level ways even after missing four of his first five shot attempts. He scored a game-high 32 points, adding 15 rebounds, seven assists, four blocks and a steal. Davis had been recovering from a right elbow injury, but noted that some of his road struggles came from overthinking the game as well. Head coach Alvin Gentry had a message for Davis prior to tip-off against the Bulls regarding some of the pressure he’s put on himself.
“We had a talk before the game,” Gentry revealed. “I said, ‘You’ve just got to relax; you can’t put the weight of the world on your shoulders.’ It can’t be the ‘if he doesn’t play great, then we can’t win games.’ We’ve got to be able win games with him playing good or him missing shots. We’ve got to be able to do that.”
New Orleans assisted on 32 of its 42 made baskets, illustrating the groups’s ability to move the ball effectively. Even still, holding Chicago to 98 points seems like a more impressive improvement. It’s not often in today’s NBA you see teams kept under 100, but the Bulls shot under 40 percent from the field and converted only nine of their 31 three-point attempts.
“We battled,” Davis said. “Jrue did an excellent job on Zach [LaVine]. He made some tough shots, but we just went out there and competed. Just trying to protect our home court.”
LaVine did score a team-high 22 points for Chicago, along with five boards and four assists, but ultimately held a -15 plus-minus due to an inefficient, high-volume shooting night. Rookie center Wendell Carter Jr. contributed 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in the Bulls’ losing effort.
As the weekend approaches, so does Payton’s expected return — and with that lineup decisions follow. Wesley Johnson was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers because of his defensive identity and ability to add depth to the wing position. He recently entered the starting lineup as Alvin Gentry searched for the right combination, and the matchup against Chicago brought out his best play yet.
Johnson’s 12 points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block have the New Orleans staff pondering whether to keep him in the starting lineup for the second leg of this two-game home stand.
New Orleans (5-6) will have a chance to even its record at .500 after two days of upcoming rest before the Phoenix Suns arrive at the Smoothie King Center on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.