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McCollum, Valanciunas power Pelicans past Wizards, 132-112

But Naji Marshall first sparked New Orleans

New Orleans Pelicans v Washington Wizards Photo by KeShawn Ennis/NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans won on the road for the first time since before Christmas, smashing the Washington Wizards, 132-112.

The victory also put more than a decade of losing in the nation’s capital to bed. The Pelicans hadn’t beaten the Wizards on their home floor since January 1, 2011.

The 132 points scored represents a new season high, showing the Pelicans can circumvent the absences of Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson many a night by playing clean basketball while locking down defensively.

“I thought our game plan discipline was at a high level tonight,” Willie Green said. “We took care of the basketball. Defensively, we were in passing lanes. We got deflections. We turned them over. We got out in transition, which is playing to our strengths.”

New Orleans committed only 10 turnovers, their lowest mark in more than a month. Meanwhile, they forced 20 Washington turnovers, leading to a whopping — and another season-high — 39 points.

They also scored a healthy 27 fastbreak points and 74 points in the paint.

It was yet another slow start out of the gates, but this time the Pelicans quickly righted the ship and didn’t look back. After trailing 10-0, Jonas Valanciunas and a rested CJ McCollum put the team on their backs; however, it was Naji Marshall who first sparked the entire team to the improved performance.

“He was just upset,” Green said. “Starting the game early and not getting off to a great start, he was frustrated about the turnovers that we had. I think we had two early. They had 10 straight points. He just went out and he demonstrated by his play on the floor of his leadership.”

To be factually correct, Marshall committed the lone New Orleans turnover during that stretch. He soon made amends by scoring the team’s first field goal though.

Valanciunas scored six of the team’s first 10 points and then McCollum proceeded to set the world on fire. He tallied 12 straight points, with his final bucket giving the Pelicans their first lead of the game at 22-20.

“All of our guys, they take ownership in being leaders and different guys lead differently,” Green said. “I thought CJ was incredible. I though JV was incredible. They set the table early with their ability to score, play-make and make the right decisions over and over again. It really helped the team.”

The two teams lit up the scoreboard in the first quarter (35-37), but then the New Orleans defense began to suffocate Washington, so much so, Kyle Kuzma walked off the floor visibly angry after picking up his sixth personal foul early in the fourth quarter.

The Pelicans scored the first 15 points of the fourth quarter. Kuzma didn’t see the final field goal of that New Orleans run, a Larry Nance Jr. lay-in.

Effectively ending this game early allowed for Dereon Seabron to see his first action since October and he made the most of it, scoring his first NBA points with 26 seconds left.

CJ McCollum finished with 34 points, five rebounds, four threes and two steals, and Jonas Valanciunas wound up with his fifth straight double-double at 27 points and 12 rebounds.

Naji Marshall scored 18 important points but two other stats really stood out. One of his four assists was a perfectly thrown lob to Trey Murphy in transition. As avid watchers know, a number of attempted lobs and passes over the defense by members of the team have gone awry this season. But not this one.

The following was a great example of the relentless defense witnessed over the final three quarters. The Pelicans gave multiple efforts on that end, often covering for each other seamlessly in help situations. Then they broke the game open early in the fourth with an ultra-aggressive mindset.

Nance posted the best plus-minus of the night (+30) and many of his minutes came at the 4 alongside Valanciunas. With Williamson still slated to miss at least a few more weeks, look for Green to try this frontcourt combination more often.

Nance finished with six points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Devonte’ Graham (11 points, six assists, two threes) and Jose Alvarado (10 points, four rebounds, five assists, two threes) were also excellent off the bench.

“The bench has been great all year,” McCollum said. “And now a lot of our bench is starting and they’re comfortable. I think that’ll be helpful when we get to April and May when we’re whole again.”

Among the only sour news of the night, Herb Jones lasted 13 minutes before leaving with a back injury. Corey Kispert fouled Jones on a drive in the second quarter and he crashed hard to the floor. The Pelicans announced he was doubtful to return with a right low back contusion and then Dyson Daniels started in his stead out of halftime.

With the Nuggets and Grizzlies winning this Monday evening, the Pelicans kept pace in the Western Conference standings, remaining 2.5 games behind both teams.

Up next, a matchup in Boston looms on Wednesday and the Pelicans owe the Celtics a little payback for one of their few losses at home on the season.

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.