(Photo credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports)
The rejuvenated New Orleans Pelicans are on a four-game winning streak entering a Friday road clash against the Los Angeles Lakers, after neither team made a move at the Thursday trade deadline.
Five of the Pelicans' seven highest-scoring games this season have come since Jan. 7, but it was defense that carried them past the Los Angeles Clippers in a 117-106 road victory on Wednesday.
The Pelicans harassed Clippers All-Star Paul George into a seven-point game on 3-of-15 shooting from the floor, including an 0-of-8 effort from 3-point range. New Orleans' Herb Jones clamped down on James Harden, and Zion Williamson made life difficult on Kawhi Leonard.
Williamson was so focused on the defensive end, he took just two shots in the first half and scored two points. He settled into an all-around game when he scored 19 points in the second half on 7-of-14 shooting, including 13 points in the decisive fourth quarter. He also finished with 10 assists.
"In the first half, collectively, we were all hitting shots (and) there was no need for me to force scoring," Williamson said. "But coach (Willie Green) talked to me and (Brandon Ingram) about those moments when you need to take the game over. I felt like it was that moment. I started to be more aggressive with scoring."
CJ McCollum scored 25 points and Ingram added 15 as the Pelicans' star trio outshined a threesome that had propelled the Clippers into first place in the Western Conference at the start of the game.
"I liked the fact that we were aggressive, we were physical and we contested all their shots. We finished possessions," Green said. "Like I told the team, this was a true character win against a worthy opponent."
The Lakers' D'Angelo Russell was a rumored trade target, but the deadline passed Thursday with Los Angeles keeping its roster intact.
"If the right move would have been there at the right price, we would've pulled the trigger," Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said of the deadline, according to the Los Angeles Times. "You can't buy a house that's not for sale."
Russell proved his value to the Lakers with an average of 24 points and 6.5 assists over his past 13 games. That was up from averages of 14.7 points and 6.1 assists over his first 35 games this season.
Russell lost his starting role in late December but celebrated his return to the top unit with a 39-point game against the Utah Jazz on Jan. 13. The Lakers are 8-5 since Russell returned as a starter.
The Lakers enter off a 114-106 home defeat against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday. Anthony Davis scored 32 points and pulled down nine rebounds for Los Angeles, and LeBron James had 25 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Los Angeles had won its previous three games and five of the previous seven.
"I love who we have in the locker room," James said this week, "and that's all I worry about. I don't get caught up in (trade talk). We're gonna go out and prepare ourselves every single night no matter what it is, no matter who's on this team."
New Orleans earned a 129-109 victory over the Lakers on Dec. 31, when Los Angeles was in the midst of a 2-9 run. The Lakers earned a 133-89 win against the Pelicans in Las Vegas on Dec. 7 in the NBA in-season tournament semifinals.
--Field Level Media