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Jaxson Hayes’ best game of young career lifts Pelicans to 112-110 victory over Hornets

Eric Bledsoe, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and others made positive marks, but this night belonged to the second-year center

New Orleans Pelicans v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

At times the New Orleans Pelicans have been a franchise that only a mother could love, but on this Mother’s Day, the Pels delivered like the FTD.

After trailing by as many as 14 points in the first half, and by seven entering the fourth quarter, the Pels continued their recent stretch of solid defense.

Bolstered by a career night from Jaxson Hayes, the return of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and a double-double by Eric Bledsoe, New Orleans kept its postseason hopes alive by beating the Charlotte Hornets, 112-110.

Bledsoe led six Pelicans in double figures with 24 points and 11 assists, collecting his fourth double-double of the season.

Willy Hernangomez continues to be a fine stand-in for Steven Adams, adding nine points and 16 rebounds, one off his season-high. James Johnson (17), Alexander-Walker (13), and Ball (12) rounded out the scoring leaders.

Charlotte guard Terry Rozier was a one-man wrecking crew for most of the game. Rozier scored a career-high 43 points in 42 minutes.

But the star of the night was the Pelicans’ second-year center from Texas.

Fresh off a 19-point, eight rebound, three block performance in Friday’s close loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Hayes once again displayed the combination of athleticism and efficiency that has made his potential so alluring to the fan base.

Against the Hornets, Hayes scored 18 points on 8-11 shooting, including 13 in the second half. He attacked both boards on his way to eight rebounds. But, his biggest impact came on the defensive end.

Hayes used his length and quickness to provide the Pelicans with a career-high six blocked shots and some intimidation.

His nine blocks over the last two games equals his output from his previous 13 outings.

For some time, “Sideshow Jax” was as apt a description of Hayes’ play as it was of his resemblance to a character on “The Simpsons.” Over the last month though, Jaxson Hayes has shown some maturity to go with his physical gifts and frenetic energy.

Head coach Stan Van Gundy said as much during his postgame comments.

“The key is consistency,” Van Gundy said. “What you normally see in young players is a lot of up and down. We had that from Jaxson early in the year. Now, he’s starting to string games together. Why? You can ask him. My guess is maturity, focus, experience.”

Hayes revealed that he’s been an active student of the game this season, working with the Pelicans’ coaching staff to overcome his inexperience on the court.

“I feel like I’ve learned a lot more from last year,” he said to Bally Sports’ Jen Hale after the game. “I’m able do a lot more stuff defensively ... not get as many fouls, read stuff better, read where the ball is gonna bounce off the rim, rebound, stuff like that.”

At 20 years old, introspection may not be Hayes’ strong point just yet, but his energy has been tremendous fuel for the Pelicans.

“One thing about Jax is he might tend to foul a little bit, but he never will give up on a play,” said Eric Bledsoe. “He’d rather take a foul than let the opposite team score a basket. It’s just contagious.”

Hayes stood in the center, figuratively and literally, while the Pelicans outscored Charlotte 55-43 in the second half, allowing the Hornets only 14 points in the decisive fourth quarter.

If that wasn’t enough, after helping New Orleans come back from that double-digit deficit, Hayes and Alexander-Walker combined to score the basket that ultimately sealed the victory.

It was a tremendous conclusion to a game that could have had a familiar end, but instead New Orleans changed its tune.

The margin for error remains thin as the Pelicans prepare for the final four games of the regular season.

As the San Antonio Spurs continue to wobble, New Orleans is back in position to make a final run.

Regardless of the outcome of those games, Pelicans fans are enjoying the present while looking towards the future.

The Pelicans don’t have that luxury just yet.

For them, it’s on to Memphis to face the Grizzlies on Monday night.

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 @DMGrubb.