NEW ORLEANS (AP) By necessity, the Pelicans keep heaping more responsibility in Tyreke Evans’ lap – and he keeps coming through.
Evans had 22 points and a career-high 15 assists, and the short-handed Pelicans overcame the loss of Anthony Davis to extend their winning streak to a season-high five games, 102-95 victory over Utah on Friday night.
The performance came with Evans starting at point guard, a role Evans occupied in stints with Sacramento earlier in his career, but not with New Orleans until this week, beginning with an upset victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.
”I always seem to make it work. I’m a basketball player,” Evans said. ”So, just trying to make the best of it, you know, for me and my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization. Just trying to finish the season out strong and win as many games as possible.”
Davis left with a left ankle injury less than four minutes in, further depleting New Orleans’ already injury-riddled roster.
But the 6-foot-6 Evans simply looked for other teammates when the Jazz’s defense collapsed on him, and the offense flowed.
”He’s so big, he can see over the other guards and that gives him the ability to find guys,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. ”He’s always a threat to score at the basket, so that helps.”
Anthony Morrow scored 20 points, Al-Farouq Aminu added 13, and Austin Rivers and Darius Miller each had 12. Alexis Ajinca, playing 28 minutes in Davis’ absence, had 10 rebounds, nine points and three blocks.
Derrick Favors had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Jazz, who lost their third straight. Gordon Hayward added 21 points.
”We just have to continue to fight and close those games out,” said Trey Burke, who had 12 points. ”We definitely had a chance to win this game tonight.
”We aren’t going to get discouraged,” Burke continued. ”We’re all good players and we know we are capable. No matter what, we’re sticking together.”
Before the game, the Jazz ruled out reserve guard Alec Burks with a left ankle sprain.
The Pelicans, meanwhile, scratched guards Eric Gordon (left knee tendinitis) and Brian Roberts (left knee bone bruise).
Davis started grimacing during the opening minutes. With 8:17 left in the first quarter, Ajinca was subbed into the game and Davis headed for the locker room. Williams did not update Davis’ condition after the game.
Still, the Pelicans managed to maintain the lead for most of the way.
Evans pushed the ball in transition and routinely slashed to the hoop to convert short floaters or layups in traffic. Otherwise, he found players such as Morrow and Miller on the perimeter.
”He’s been doing a great job in that role change, but that’s what great players do,” Morrow said of Evans. ”I’m proud of him, glad he’s stepped it up. Obviously he does a lot of things for us on both ends of the floor, and obviously he’s adjusted his game and he’s been great for us.”
Evans’ layup put the Pelicans up 72-66 heading into the fourth quarter, and his weaving dribble drive for a reverse scoop made it 87-81 with 1:52 left.
Morrow hit three of his four 3-point attempts, the last giving the Pelicans an 85-79 lead with 3:05 left.
Ajinca’s three-point play on an 8-foot jumper as he was fouled by Favors made it 90-83 with less than a minute left, but the teams traded a slew of free throws before it was over.
Marvin Williams finished with 12 points for Utah, but the Jazz committed 19 turnovers, leading to 33 Pelicans points.
Evans normally plays shooting guard or small forward, but once again looked comfortable at the point while scoring 13 first-half points. The Pelicans 39-31 when Morrow’s consecutive jumpers capped an 8-0 run, and New Orleans’ lead was 43-38 at halftime.
NOTES: The Pelicans and Jazz split their previous two meetings. They meet once more on April 4 in Utah. … The Jazz are 8-29 on the road. … Utah next plays on Sunday in Oklahoma City. … Evans has hit 20 points 15 times this season and has nine double-doubles. … The Pelicans shot 50.7 percent (36 of 71), marking the third time during their current winning streak they eclipsed the 50 percent mark.