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Pelicans beat Rockets, 119-108, establish best home start in franchise history

New Orleans gets back in the win column and improves to 17-4 on the season inside the Smoothie King Center.

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

A little home cooking against an opponent sitting in the Western Conference cellar got the team back in the win column.

The New Orleans Pelicans, who not only lost both their games on the last road trip but also Zion Williamson to a hamstring injury, played extremely well for the first three quarters before settling for the 119-108 victory against the Houston Rockets.

Wednesday’s win improved the Pelicans home record to 17-4, a start never previously achieved in franchise history.

After New Orleans jumped out to a 9-1 start, the better team was quickly evident; however, it was how they finished the first 12 minutes that stood out most. It was energy play after energy play.

The Pelicans scored the final 15 points of the frame to seize a 45-22 lead and Stephen Silas didn’t get to see the entire run. Houston’s head coach missed a Jose Alvarado floater in person because he was ejected with 6.1 seconds left after picking up several technical fouls for arguing too vehemently with officials.

New Orleans’ lead proceeded to hover between 20 and 30 points. Then the fourth quarter happened where things became more interesting than they should have.

Houston eventually made everyone uncomfortable because the Pelicans stepped off the gas, stringing together far too many turnovers while giving up far too many easy points to the Rockets.

In the final 1:09 of the third quarter, the Pelicans committed four turnovers. Then they added two more in the first minute of the fourth. This led to the Rockets begin closing the gap and soon thereafter John Lucas, the Houston assistant coach who replaced Silas, started rotating bodies to keep fresh legs on the floor.

Everyone on Houston’s active list eventually received minutes.

The unusual strategy almost paid off.

Houston outperformed New Orleans in all areas, whittling down a 24-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to just seven. Fortunately, there were only 47.1 seconds left in the game when the margin got that close.

“We did it for four quarters — uh, three quarters — we need one more,” Jonas Valanciunas told Jen Hale during his Bally Sports New Orleans interview. “In the end, it got a little chippy. We kind of relaxed. We did a good job, but we have room to grow.”

Without Williamson or Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum needs to be the best player on the floor for the Pelicans and he was on Wednesday. The point guard finished with 28 points and made 5 of 11 from 3-point range but his lack of errors stood out more.

Six assists against zero turnovers.

That’s exactly what the doctor ordered for a team that’s been struggling with too many miscues of late. If McCollum can be that steady floor general, New Orleans will find themselves in a lot of games for however much longer the two biggest stars are out.

Valanciunas fought like hell to finish with a 16-point, 17-rebound double-double. And when I say fight, I mean fight.

Naji Marshall, once again, dropped some nifty dimes in his line of 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists, but you have to admire how often he looks to put pressure on the rim. He seemingly either scores or makes a play for another the vast majority of time. That characteristic is crucial while Williamson is unavailable.

Jose Alvarado finally rediscovered his shooting stroke. He made five of his first seven field goal attempts, finishing with 13 points, five assists and three 3s.

Willy Hernangomez and Trey Murphy each added 14 points.

Up next, the hottest team in the NBA comes to town on Friday despite falling to the Bulls tonight. The Pelicans will have to be at their best if they want to sweep the season series from the Brooklyn Nets.

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 @OlehKosel.