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Julius Randle scores career-high 45 points, Elfrid Payton notches third consecutive triple-double, but Pelicans lose 122-110 to Trail Blazers

New Orleans has now lost five straight games.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

It carried none of the intensity or the stakes of the 2018 Western Conference Playoffs, but it’s always interesting when the New Orleans Pelicans meet the Portland Trail Blazers.

The shorthanded Pelicans were once again highly competitive with a team from the league’s upper echelon, but fell short 122-110 for their fifth consecutive loss.

Julius Randle scored a career-high 45 points to go along with 11 rebounds and six assists, becoming just the eighth player in franchise history to top the 40-point mark. In addition, Randle’s statistical line has been matched or bettered by only three other players this season.

“I thought he played with great force,” said Alvin Gentry to postgame media. “I thought he attacked the rim. Did a great job all night, he was playing against double and triple-teams. Thought he did a great job in just getting the ball to a position where he could score.”

Meanwhile, Elfrid Payton continues his stellar play as of late, notching his third consecutive triple-double with 14 points, 12 boards, and a career-high 16 assists. Payton is the first player in Pelicans’ history to accomplish that feat and his four triple-doubles this season (in 31 games) move him into second on the franchise’s leader board.

“I think it’s kind of special,” said Payton after the game. “It’s just unfortunate that we didn’t win honestly…We didn’t win any of those games. I guess it’s cool.”

While Payton downplayed his accomplishment that came in yet another loss, Gentry stated that he isn’t surprised by Elfrid’s recent string of strong performances.

“Well I just think he’s playing like we thought he was capable of playing. He’s doing a good job of distributing the ball. He’s doing a good job of getting the ball to the basket, but more-so than anything, I think he’s doing a great job of rebounding from that position.”

Frank Jackson (16) and Jahlil Okafor (10) were the only other Pelicans in double figures.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard (24 points, seven assists) and CJ McCollum (23 points) were two of six Trail Blazers to score at least 10 points.

After taking a 37-30 lead after one quarter, New Orleans was outscored 92-73 over the final three quarters.

Portland beat the Pelicans up front, grabbing 54 rebounds, including 17 on the offensive glass. Those rebounds, along with the Pelicans reaching too often on defense, provided the Blazers with a huge advantage at the free throw line, with Portland outscoring the Pels 26-12 from the stripe.

The disparity was made worse by Randle, who while having the best scoring night of his career from the floor had maybe the worst game of his career at the line, going 3-for-11 for the night.

The game turned during the second and third quarters as the Pelicans’ offense ground to a screeching halt. Over those 24 minutes New Orleans was 16-for-48 (33 percent) from the floor and made just eight of their 17 free throws. Randle was held scoreless for nearly 16 of those minutes, and his teammates were unable to pick up the slack.

Outscored 57-45 during that stretch, their seven-point lead turned into a five-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter.

New Orleans closed the gap to two on a Frank Jackson dunk with just over nine minutes to play, and trailed by only three points with 6:32 to go. Unfortunately for the Pelicans, they couldn’t string together enough defensive stops or make any outside shots down the stretch.

That wasn’t a problem for Portland. The Blazers made four three-pointers in the final seven minutes while closing the game with a 20-11 kick over the final six minutes.

It was another encouraging effort by the young Pelicans, who continue to both play hard and improve the team’s lottery chances each night.

They return to the Smoothie King Center Saturday night at 6:00 PM as they host the 16-54 Phoenix Suns.

The Suns are also on a back-to-back after falling to the Houston Rockets 108-102 Friday night. Phoenix has lost three of its last four contests, and is 0-2 against New Orleans this season.