NEW ORLEANS (AP) — It is now apparent that coach Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo, flowing system has caught on in New Orleans, and it looks like the transformation has taken place in time for the surging Pelicans to make a run at a playoff spot.
Ryan Anderson tied his career high with 36 points and New Orleans overcame the absences of newly named All Star Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans to beat the Sacramento Kings 114-105 on Thursday night.
“Obviously, Ryan was great, but I thought our other guys stepped up,” Gentry said. “When they made a run at us, we kept our composure and were able to come up with the necessary baskets to extend the lead back. I was happy with the way everyone played.”
Jrue Holiday had 25 points and eight assists for New Orleans, while Norris Cole had 17 points and a career-high 10 assists.
While neither team is currently in the Western Conference playoff picture, both came in winning five of their previous seven games. So it looked bleak for New Orleans when Gentry announced before tip-off that Davis, who went down with a concussion Monday night, and Evans, who has right knee tendinitis, would be out — removing two of the Pelicans’ top three scorers from the lineup.
With Evans out, Bryce Dejean-Jones, recently recalled from the Development League, made his first NBA start and scored 14 points.
Now New Orleans, which opened the season at 1-11, is 17-28 and three games behind Portland for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. The Pelicans have won six of eight, with the only losses in that stretch coming by two points at Memphis last week and by one point Monday night against Houston.
“We’ve been playing hard and playing really good defense and just playing for each other,” Holiday said. “If we keep doing that, I think we can be where we want to be at the end of the day.”
At 20-26, the Kings are closer to a playoff spot than the Pelicans but have now lost three straight after a five-game winning streak. Coach George Karl missed the game in New Orleans with an illness, and associate head coach Chad Iske filled in.
DeMarcus Cousins had 26 points and 10 rebounds for the Kings, who fell behind by 18 points in the first quarter and only briefly got as close as five points the rest of the way. Ben McLemore added 26 points and Rajon Rondo had 17 points and 15 assists.
“We were fighting from behind from the very beginning,” Iske said. “You can’t spot people 18 points on their home court.”
Dejean-Jones, an undrafted rookie out of Iowa State who was with New Orleans in training camp, highlighted his first start with three 3-pointers and a driving dunk in which he switched hands from left to right as he went up past Cousins.
“As much as I thought about it just from being a kid all the way up to this moment, I tried not to think about it too much. It was an important game so I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself. ... Just being in the situation that this team’s in, so close to the playoffs, it was kind of hard to even think about it. I’m focused all in on the game and trying to get a ‘W’.”
Anderson scored 18 of his points on 8-of-12 shooting in the first quarter, highlighted by a pair of 3s and an array of mid-range turnaround jumpers. He had 30 by halftime, ending with a step-back jumper that allowed New Orleans to take a 63-53 lead into the locker room.
“His effort along kind of put the game away,” Cousins said of Anderson. “Most of the game we were fighting back but we were in too deep of a hole.”
Anderson scored six points in the second half, missing a free throw that would have given him a new career-high. But his fifth and final 3 was a clutch shot that came after the Kings had gotten as close as five.
Kings: Rondo reached double-digit assists for his 14th straight game, tying the franchise record set by Nate “Tiny” Archibald in 1972. ... The Kings fell to 8-14 on the road.
Pelicans: Alonzo Gee scored 10 for New Orleans, while Omer Asik grabbed 13 rebounds. ... The Pelicans, plagued by injuries all season, sent out their 21st different starting lineup of the season. ... The Pelicans are 1-5 when Davis doesn’t play. ... New Orleans had at least 10 3s for the 18th time this season.
Kings: Visit Memphis on Saturday night.
Pelicans: Host Brooklyn on Saturday night.