Okafor carries short-handed Pelicans past Rockets 121-116

HOUSTON (AP) – Jahlil Okafor scored 27 points and the short-handed New Orleans Pelicans overcame a big early deficit to beat the Houston Rockets 121-116 on Tuesday night in their first game since Anthony Davis’ agent said the five-time All-Star wanted to be traded.

James Harden scored 37 points for Houston to extend his streak of 30-point games to 24, but he had a tough shooting night, making 11 of 32 overall and going six for 18 from three-point range. He had 11 rebounds, six assists and four steals.

Jrue Holiday had 19 points, eight assists, six rebounds and a career-high six blocks for New Orleans. Davis sat out his fifth straight game with sprained left index finger.

New Orleans led by six before using an 8-2 run to make it 114-102 with three and a half minutes left. Holiday had six points for the Pelicans in that span, and Houston missed seven straight shots.

The Rockets got going after that, using a 12-4 spurt – with 10 points from Harden – to get within 118-114 with 22.4 seconds left. Kenrich Williams missed two free throws after that, but Harden turned the ball over, and Houston opted to foul Tim Frazier.

New Orleans Pelicans centre Jahlil Okafor (8) dribbles as Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game between the two teams in Houston on Tuesday night. – AP

He made one of two free throws to extend the lead to five with 12.1 seconds remaining. Harden was fouled on a three-pointer and made two of three to cut the lead to three with 6.3 seconds left, but Holiday made two free throws to secure the victory.

The Pelicans snapped a three-game skid amid the Davis drama. Davis’ agent also said the star big man won’t sign an extension with the team, a move that earned Davis a USD50,000 fine because the league office said he violated a collectively bargained rule prohibiting players or their representatives from making public trade demands.

Davis chatted with teammates while watching the game from the end of the bench.

“That’s going to play out the way it plays out,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “I don’t talk about it very much. I think it’s out in the public now, and I think everything that needed to be said has been said.”

New Orleans led by three to start the fourth and was up by seven early in the quarter before Houston scored the next five points, capped by a three-pointer from Austin Rivers just before the shot clock expired. That made it 100-98.

The Pelicans used a 6-0 run to stretch the lead before Harden made a three-pointer to trim the deficit to 106-101 with about six minutes remaining.

The Rockets led by as many as 15 early, but the Pelicans used a 13-5 run in the third quarter to get within 83-81 with about four minutes left in the quarter. Okafor had four points in that stretch and Holiday added a three-pointer.

Rivers made a three-pointer for Houston but a 9-2 spurt by the Pelicans followed to give them their first lead of the game, 90-88, with about one and a half minutes left in the third.

A dunk by Cheick Diallo wrapped up the third quarter and left New Orleans up 94-91 entering the fourth.