Many NBA observers expected New Orleans to immediately plummet based on Friday's news that All-Star forward Zion Williamson is sidelined indefinitely, but in two weekend road games, that was anything but the case. The Pelicans followed up a two-point loss against East-leading Philadelphia with a dramatic two-point win at Charlotte, the East's current No. 8 seed.
With Williamson out of action, two other members of the team's 2019 first-round draft class combined on one of the biggest baskets of Sunday's game, with Nickeil Alexander-Walker dishing to Jaxson Hayes for a score that put the Pelicans up by four points with 12 seconds left.
"We persevered," said Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy, whose team was also playing without 2020 All-Star Brandon Ingram and starting center Steven Adams. "We just stayed with it and kept fighting. That was the best thing we did. We didn't play very well offensively, but we kept fighting."
New Orleans pulled to within 1.5 games of No. 10 San Antonio (32-35) in the race for the final play-in spot, with both teams in action Monday. The Pelicans wrap up a back-to-back in Memphis at 7 p.m. Central, while the Spurs will host Milwaukee and tip off 30 minutes later.
IT WAS OVER WHEN…
Trailing 111-107, Charlotte's Terry Rozier took a desperate three-point attempt that turned into an airball, a rarity on a night when Rozier was superb. Alexander-Walker collected the rebound of Rozier's miss and was fouled with 5.2 seconds to go, sinking a free throw for a five-point edge. The Hornets drained a three with one-tenth of a second left to create the final margin.
PELICANS PLAYER OF THE GAME
Hayes set a career high with six blocks, but that was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the second-year center's impact. The Texas product's season high in scoring is 19 points, which he tied Friday at Philadelphia and approached Sunday by scoring 18 points on 8/11 shooting. He also pulled down eight rebounds, doing all of that work in just 26 minutes.
"I say this all the time, and not just for Jaxson but young players in general, the key is consistency," Van Gundy said. "He's starting to string games together, that's what important."
BY THE NUMBERS
23-14: New Orleans scoring edge in the fourth quarter. In other words, Charlotte only scored 11 points in the first 11:59 of that period before sinking a three a fraction before the buzzer.
10/22: Pelicans foul shooting, but they were able to overcome a very bad night at the charity stripe in other ways, particularly behind a balanced offense.
8-6: New Orleans road record since a discouraging two-game miniseries at Portland in mid-March. The Pelicans have three games left on this trip at Memphis, Dallas and Golden State.
REVISITING THREE KEYS TO VICTORY PRESENTED BY FANDUEL
Two nights after seven Pelicans reached double figures in scoring, six did so at Spectrum Center, while Willy Hernangomez added nine points.
There were a lot of rebounds to be had Sunday. New Orleans turned the tables in the category with a 51-46 edge, after Charlotte won rebounding by nine Jan. 8 in the Smoothie King Center.
Charlotte only tallied 10 fast-break points (the Hornets averaged 13.8 entering Sunday), with most of that coming in the first half.