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With Zion and Ingram battling foul trouble, Josh Hart and Pelicans’ bench provide huge lift in win over Rockets, 130-101

That’s four straight wins!

Houston Rockets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Parades will not be rolling down the streets of New Orleans for Mardi Gras this year, but the Pelicans have been busy throwing a lot of L’s off their house float lately.

After falling to the Houston Rockets in a game where they were outscored 48-22 in a single quarter less than two weeks ago, the Pelicans returned the favor to their division rivals Tuesday night in the Smoothie King Center. New Orleans extended their current winning streak to four games after posting a resounding 130-101 victory against the Rockets.

The Pelicans got off to a solid start despite losing one of their stars to early foul trouble and shooting only 38.5% in the first quarter. Zion Williamson led New Orleans with six points and three assists, but the majority of those contributions came towards the end of the frame. He had to take a seat after picking up a second personal foul just 2:19 into the game.

Foul trouble was a theme for Zion tonight. After checking back in to finish the first, Williamson quickly drew his third foul early in the second quarter. He played a total of 6:32 in the first half. This may be the first game I witnessed where a player mired in foul trouble throughout still somehow managed to dominate the game — more on this later.

As potent as Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram were in limited minutes, the story of the night was undoubtedly the bench, and specifically, Josh Hart. Eleven Pelicans wound up in the points column of the box score, including eight different players in the first quarter. This effort paved the way for New Orleans to grab a 30-25 lead after 12 minutes and it was refreshing to see other guys step up.

“It says that everybody cares about winning, winning basketball, caring about each other as a team, as a brother,” Brandon Ingram said in response to how his teammates responded despite his foul trouble and Zion’s. “As we go on the basketball floor, just everybody has everybody’s back when we go out there. Everybody is coming in being accountable for self, doing what they do well on the basketball floor and it’s spreading around the team.”

Josh Hart was incredible, leading the bench effort with a ridiculous line of 20 points, 17 rebounds, three assists, three triples, one steal and two blocks. Hart scored 10 of his 20 points in the second quarter, in which he tied John Wall to pace all scorers in the frame. Remember, though, Hart entered the night as questionable due to back spasms yet he played 40:13 of the 48 minutes. Simply remarkable.

One of the keys in widening their lead in the second quarter for New Orleans was that they were able to keep Houston shooters at bay throughout the first half. This was one of their better defensive efforts, in my opinion, resulting in the Rockets making just 4 of 15 from three-point range (2 of 9 in the second quarter), and I specifically noticed several nice close-outs by Ingram.

B.I. seems to be learning to use his length more and more on defense. Rather than jumping and committing unnecessary fouls, he patiently closes the distance on the shooter and allows his long arms to do the job of bothering an opponent’s shot attempt.

Houston’s missed threes and ten second chance points paved the way for the Pelicans to take a comfortable 63-50 lead into the locker room for halftime.

In the second half, the team-oriented scoring continued, with nine different Pels scoring in the third quarter. New Orleans’ ball movement was strong all night, continuing a trend that we’ve seen over the last couple weeks. They piled up 31 assists in this game and Zion Williamson led his teammates with seven. For context, the Charlotte Hornets, who lead the NBA in assists per game, average 28.1 assists per night.

One can’t expect the shots to fall every night, but good ball movement will consistently lead to preferred shot attempts. Head coach Stan Van Gundy credited his young stars for their unselfish play afterwards.

“Our two best players, our two leading scorers, have just been fantastic. {They’ve been} efficient, making plays for other people. To see them combine for 10 assists tonight, it’s just not rare now. We’re getting that every night. Zion had seven assists in 20 minutes. We’re making plays for each other and we’re getting high quality shots.”

After Houston briefly cut New Orleans’ lead to eight, the Pelicans managed to hold the line and take a 92-81 lead into the fourth quarter. Then, New Orleans proceeded to slam the door shut, winning the final frame by a huge 38-20 margin.

Hot shooting by Ingram was particularly lethal in that final attack as he went 4 for 4 in leading all fourth quarter scorers with nine points to close it out. For the game, he finished with 22 points, five rebounds and three assists on an efficient 9 of 13 shooting.

However, a great defensive effort might have been the real star of the fourth quarter. The Pelicans held Houston to 28.6% shooting from the field and Rockets’ star John Wall was held scoreless.

Zion Williamson finished with 20 points, five rebounds and seven assists — in just 21 minutes of action. That’s just an absurd level of production. The Pelicans are now 7-1 over the last two seasons when Zion posts five or more assists in a game.

Kira Lewis Jr. made a positive mark off New Orleans’ bench, scoring 10 points on 3 of 6 shooting from the field and 4 of 4 from the free throw line, but Willy Hernangomez put on a bigger show. The Pelicans’ reserve center was so steady throughout that Steven Adams (six points, four rebounds, two steals) was only needed for 22 minutes. Hernangomez finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Honestly, we may not see Jaxson Hayes in the rotation for quite awhile.

Up next, the Pelicans will head out on a four-game road trip that begins tomorrow in Chicago. They have some very winnable games ahead that include matchups against the Bulls and Pistons. If New Orleans can maintain this level of play, they could soon find themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff mix.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @JamDunn06.