It was exactly a week ago when Anthony Davis left the game against the Utah Jazz just 3:17 into the first quarter with a left ankle injury and did not return.
No worries. Tyreke Evans took over, contributing in every way with 22 points, a career-high 15 assists as well as five rebounds, three steals and a blocked shots. New Orleans won 102-95 at Smoothie King Center.
“Tyreke is capable of having those type of games during the course of a season,” coach Monty Williams said. “We want him to have them more often than not.”
The Pelicans (22-43) meet the Jazz (23-52) again Friday night at Utah. Davis again was ailing, having sat out most of Wednesday night’s loss at Denver with back spasms. Davis remains day-to-day.
Another big outing by Evans may be needed as the Pelicans try to snap out of a three-game losing streak, coming after they had won five in a row with the home victory against the Jazz.
In the previous game against Utah in New Orleans, Anthony Morrow provided tremendous support with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-4 on 3-point attempts. The two worked particularly well in tandem.
Williams said the Pelicans’ transitioning from defense to offense was a big part of that.
“Off of stops, they were doing a good job of Tyreke finding guys at the basket or Morrow on wing,” Williams said. “But (Evans) is so big, he can see over the other guys, and that gives him the ability to find guys, and he’s always a threat to score at the basket.”
Evans had been thrust into the starting point guard position after Brian Roberts injured his left knee two games before during the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets. Roberts returned against the San Antonio Spurs and has played the past three games. That has shifted Evans to shooting guard, where he is replacing Eric Gordon, who has missed the past seven games with left knee tendinitis.
Although Evans was very effective at point guard, Williams had to simplify the offense. With Roberts back, the Pelicans have more at their disposal.
“With B-Rob out, we had to take out all of our motion offense,” Williams said.
Roberts also gives the Pelicans another shooter and takes ball-handling duties away from small forward Darius Miller, who did an admirable job.
However, heading into the Friday night’s game, and perhaps the rest of the season, the Pelicans now have other concerns. They have not played well defensively since that game on March 28, including Wednesday night’s 137-107 shelling by the Nuggets, who made sure the Pelicans didn’t move past them in the standings.
Evans led New Orleans with 27 points, and Morrow had 17. The Pelicans outrebounded the Nuggets and shot 10 more free throws than Denver attempted but allowed 56.5 percent shooting, including 55.6 percent on 3-point attempts.
And, in the three games heading into Wednesday night, New Orleans was outscored 46-14 on second-chance points, including 22-4 in a disappointing loss to Sacramento, which at the time had the second-worst record in the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Lakers have since earned that designation.
Utah has the worst record in the West, and the Pelicans hold a 2-1 edge in the season series. The Jazz, who are started over with younger players this season, has lost 16 of their past 18 games.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said he can empathize with the Philadelphia 76ers and their record losing streak.
“People don’t understand the mindset of when you’re losing a lot and trying to get a win,” he said. “It’s difficult, and it wears on you. And, good teams play you even harder, because they don’t want to be the ones you beat to break the losing streak.
“But our young guys have shown a lot of improvement this season, which is what we were looking to see.”
For the Pelicans, a victory in Salt Lake City is all but a must. After Friday night, the Pelicans play a murders row of games, including at Portland on Sunday, followed against Phoenix at home, then home games against powerful Oklahoma City and Houston and home games against that duo.
Each of those teams is locked in a battle to get better playoff seedings or hold on to the ones they have.
With seven games remaining, Roberts needs to make 11 foul shots to qualify for the NBA’s free-throw shooting title. He is shooting 95 percent (114-of-120) but hasn’t attempted a free throw in his past two games.