NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Lonzo Ball pulled up decisively from left wing to sink his career-high seventh 3-pointer in a single game, then glided back toward the Pelicans’ defensive end, slapping the extended hand of coach Alvin Gentry as a thunderous roar filled the arena.
Showing increasing confidence in his modified shooting stroke, Ball scored a season-high 27 points and New Orleans beat the undermanned Houston Rockets 127-112 on Sunday night for their fourth straight victory.
“I knew it was not going to happen overnight. This is a new shot for me,” said Ball, who had a slow start to the season but made 11 3s combined in a pair of games over the weekend. “Hopefully it can get consistent over time.”
E’Twaun Moore hit five 3s and scored a season-high 25 points in a reserve role for New Orleans, which trailed by nine early in the fourth quarter before suddenly seizing complete control against a Houston squad without its three most productive players: James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Clint Capela.
Brandon Ingram scored 27 and Jrue Holiday 25 for the Pelicans, who’ll enter the new year having won five of six games as they await the debut of No. 1 overall draft pick Zion Williamson. Derek Favors had 12 points and 17 rebounds.
Daniel House Jr. scored 22 and Eric Gordon, returning for the first time since having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in mid-November, added 20 points.
“I just want to continue to build from this,” Gordon said. “We played well tonight. It’s just things got tough towards the end and we kind of fell. We’ve got a lot of young guys playing out there, but everybody played well and I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
Isaiah Hartenstein, making his first-career start, had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Rockets, who shot 51.9% (42 of 81), made 15 3s and spent much of the opening three quarters in the lead.
“I’ve just got to make the most of my opportunities,” Hartenstein said. “I think I did a pretty good job.”
Houston led 95-86 after Gordon’s driving finger roll to open the fourth quarter, but the Pelicans suddenly took over with an 18-1 run fueled by Moore, who drained four 3s and a jumper in the span of 3:04.
“Big games like that coming off the bench are huge and kind of makes you a complete team; E’Twaun came off and picked us up,” said Holiday, whose 12 fourth-quarter points were second only to Moore’s 14.
When Moore finally missed a 3 off the front rim, Holiday came flying down the lane to slam it home with two hands. Ball, who also had nine rebounds and eight assists, capped the run with a steal from Austin Rivers that he converted into a transition layup to make it 104-96.
Harden, who’d been listed as questionable with a sprained toe after scoring 44 in a victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night, was scratched from the lineup for the first time this season.
The Rockets still started fast offensively as Gordon hit a 3 for the game’s first points and hit another to give the Rockets a 37-36 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Ball’s fifth 3 of the game tying it at 64, seconds before the half ended.
Ingram, who came to New Orleans with Ball and Josh Hart from Los Angeles in a trade this summer that sent Anthony Davis to the Lakers, said it’s been “exciting to see the work pay off” for Ball, who not only changed his shot but also had to rebuild strength in his legs after missing the end of last season because of ankle trouble.
“This is confidence for him to keep shooting the basketball, keep distributing for everybody and just be him,” Ingram said.
Rockets: Chris Clemons had 16 points and 10 assists but missed seven of 11 3-point shots. ... Ben McLemore finished with 12 points. ... Center Tyson Chandler was active but coach Mike D’Antoni elected not to play him. ... Houston used just eight players in the game.
Pelicans: Shot 49% (50 of 102) and finished 18 of 44 from 3-point range, making 10 of their last 19. ... New Orleans outrebounded Houston 47-41 and turned 17 Houston turnovers into 23 points while committing just nine turnovers. ... The Pelicans still have yet to estimate when Williamson will return from arthroscopic knee surgery performed the day before the regular season began, but he has been increasingly active in warm-ups and practices, running through 5-on-0 drills and putting up shots.
The Pelicans wound up outscoring the Rockets 41-19 in the fourth quarter and Moore said it started with New Orleans putting forth more effort on defense, particularly around the 3-point line.
“That’s what they do is shoot 3s,” Moore said. “They weren’t going to stop missing. We had to make them miss.”
Rockets: Host Denver on Tuesday night.
Pelicans: Have a four-day break before returning to action against the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday night.