Payton may return for Pelicans’ meeting with Knicks

The New Orleans Pelicans miss point guard Elfrid Payton’s ball handling and defense.

But they are getting a scoring boost on the perimeter from E’Twaun Moore’s scoring.

Payton has missed the last nine games because of a sprained ankle. Coach Alvin Gentry said Payton could have played in a 107-100 loss at Minnesota on Wednesday night, but he held him out because Payton wasn’t 100 percent.

The point guard could be back in the lineup when New Orleans hosts the New York Knicks on Friday night.

With or without Payton, New Orleans hopes Moore can keep up the pace he has been setting. He scored 31 points against the Timberwolves, two nights after he had 30 in a 126-110 victory at Toronto. In the last three games, he has shot 65 percent from the floor and made 8 of 15 3-pinters.

But his performance against Minnesota didn’t prevent a slow start by New Orleans, which fell behind by as many as 21 points before rallying to momentarily take its only lead of the game in the fourth quarter.

“It was tough,” Moore told the Pelicans team website. “We dug ourselves a hole early, simple little things early. It takes too much effort to come back and try to win.”

Nikola Mirotic returned from a two-game absence due to an ankle injury to get 16 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes, but he twisted the same ankle in the final minute Wednesday. His status will be updated Friday.

Mirotic’s return enabled Julius Randle to return to the bench but even his presence didn’t prevent the Pelicans reserves from having a poor night as they were outscored by their Wolves counterparts, 22-5.

“You’ve got to start the game the right way, and we didn’t do it,” Gentry told the Pelicans team website. “We battled back and the defense really picked up (in the second half) and we closed the gap, but then we had some really poor possessions. Those are the things that cost you.”

New Orleans committed 18 turnovers and scored just four points in the final 4 1/2 minutes.

“They outhustled us,” Pelicans forward Anthony Davis told the Pelicans team website, “not just the last couple possessions but the entire game. We want to play fast, controlled chaos but you know I think we try to do it and try to get everything back in one possession.”

Knicks coach David Fizdale changed his lineup at Oklahoma City on Wednesday, but New York lost 128-103 in its third consecutive lopsided loss even though the Thunder played without All-Star guard Russell Westbrook.

“We gave up 128 points for the second time (in three games),” center Enes Kanter told the New York Post. “We were No. 1 in transition defense and tonight was pretty bad.”

Fitzdale inserted Emmanuel Mudiay into the starting lineup at point guard and rookie Kevin Knox made his first NBA start.

“With young teams that’s just how it is,” Fizdale told Newsday. “If everybody was a complete player right now, I think we’d be in a lot different situation record wise. Every game for us is (a lesson).”

The result was an even slower start for the Knicks than the Pelicans had against the Timberwolves. The Thunder had a 37-22 lead after the first quarter.

“We started off slow just like the other one, no different,” Fizdale said of the new lineup. “But I want to look at it a little more.

“I’m not worried. That group will continue competing through the whole year. We’ll get our butts kicked some but we won’t back down or lay down.”