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Graham, McCollum lead Pelicans past Bulls 126-109

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Devonte’ Graham unravelled his braids and let his hair, as well as his shot, flow freely.

Graham hit five three-pointers on his way to a season-high 30 points, CJ McCollum scored 25 and the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Chicago Bulls 126-109 on Thursday.

“It was good, man, to see the ball go in, play with confidence. It was fun,” Graham said, but sounded reluctant when asked if he’ll keep his hair unbraided.

“For now, I guess, until I play bad,” said Graham, a fourth-year pro out of Kansas. “I used to have this little nappy head in college. I guess everybody’s just surprised by it now.”

Jonas Valanciunas added 16 points and 19 rebounds for the Pelicans, who won for the fourth time in six games as they try to solidify their hold on a Western Conference play-in spot.

Zach LaVine scored 39 points and Coby White added 23 for Chicago, which played without leading scorer DeMar DeRozan and lost for the fifth time in six games. The slumping Bulls are in danger of sliding out of a top-six seed in the East (the seventh and eighth seeds have to host the play-in round).

“It’s frustrating, obviously, we’re just trying to figure out how to get back into a rhythm,” LaVine said.

“No one is going to help us. We’ve done enough talking. We’ve done enough of trying to pep talk and rallying to keep guys’ spirits up, but we just have to get it done now.”

New Orleans Pelicans guard Devonte’ Graham shoots. PHOTO: AP
Chicago Bulls centre Nikola Vucevic (9) screens New Orleans Pelicans forward Herbert Jones. PHOTO: AP

Pelicans undrafted rookie Jose Alvarado scored 13 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, hitting a driving layup, floater and three-pointer in succession to help fuel a pivotal surge in which New Orleans built a 15-point cushion.

Graham’s deep three-pointer and Valanciunas’ 10-foot turnaround capped the spurt and made it 107-92 with 6:26 to go.

Javonte Green and Alex Caruso each hit a three-pointer to help Chicago pull to 109-102 before Graham hit a momentum-halting driving layup as he was fouled. Graham added two more free throws to give him five straight points.

“We need that from him, especially in a game like tonight,” Alvarado said. “Wasn’t shocked. That’s who he is. He better keep that hairstyle because I guess that’s what it is.”

McCollum’s bank shot made it 116-102 with 2:01 left and Chicago removed its starters soon after.

LaVine scored 16 points in the first quarter, when he hit five of his first six shots, including all three three-pointers he attempted, and helped Chicago build a lead as large as nine.

But the Pelicans erased the deficit in the second. Graham’s 29-foot three-pointer, followed by his driving floater while being fouled, put New Orleans up 52-50. The Pelicans were ahead by four late in the period on Herb Jones’ putback, but White drained his fourth of five three-pointers on the night to pull Chicago to 63-62 at halftime.