For three quarters Saturday night, the New Orleans Pelicans were the better basketball team. Despite lacking its top seven scorers, the depleted Pelicans led the Houston Rockets by 10 points going into the fourth quarter.
But as is so often the case with bad teams, the Pelicans were unable to sustain its hot play in the fourth. Houston outscored New Orleans 39-22 in the period to win the game 111-104.
Much like last outing against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Rockets found ways to make average players appear as superstars.
Luke Babbitt scored a career high 24 points, and for a player whose strength has never been dribble penetration, James Harden couldn’t stay in front of him. Babbitt hit 4-of-8 from three-point range as well, and the Pelicans hit nine threes on the evening.
Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley made their return to the lineup tonight, and both looked rusty. Howard battled early foul trouble, but Omer Asik played well as Howard hit the bench. Asik had eight points and six rebounds in the first quarter, replacing Howard around the 7:00 mark.
Though neither Asik nor Howard finished with an overwhelming line, combined the duo accounted for 22 points and 14 rebounds. Alexis Ajinca had a good game for the Pelicans against the much more touted Rockets big men. Ajinca finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, filling in for the injured Anthony Davis.
Beverley was impressive and resilient in his return. He missed his first five field goals, but hit six of his next seven (including four three-pointers) to finish with 20 points and four assists. His defensive pressure and intensity wasn’t quite as high as it typically is, but Beverley will need to round back into game shape and get his timing right.
All things considered, he was a big reason Houston was able to get back in this game. Jeremy Lin did a great job behind him, too, scoring 18 points off the bench, as well as coming up with four steals.
James Harden was surprised to see less whistles go his way, as his repeated attempts to initiate contact with Al Farouq-Aminu were rebuffed by the referees. Harden still attempted 10 free throws, but there were a number of no calls that left him in disarray. He finished with 33 points and 13 assists.
With the win the Rockets improved to 53-27 on the season and cut the magic number to just 1. With either a Portland loss or Houston win, the Rockets will secure homecourt advantage in the first round.