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Valanciunas, Hayes power Pelicans past Rockets

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Jonas Valanciunas had 32 points and 10 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans emphatically snapped a four-game skid with a 130-105 victory over the Houston Rockets yesterday.

Jaxson Hayes scored for 21 points for New Orleans, energising his team with the type of crowd-stirring plays that the six-foot-11, 2019 eighth overall draft choice has begun converting more frequently lately. His highlights included an off-balance transition floater as he was fouled, a pair of wing three-pointers and above-the-rim prowess on both ends, from alley-oop dunks to a block that ignited a fast break.

“The ball finds energy and he had great energy tonight,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “Everybody who played came in and played with purpose. Just beautiful basketball to watch when we do it together like that.”

Undrafted rookie Jose Alvarado – affectionately known as “Grand Theft Alvarado” since playing at Georgia Tech – lived up to that moniker with a career-high six steals to go with 16 points and 10 assists, his first career double-double.

“To get my first double-double, it’s pretty cool,” Alvarado said. “I’m just happy I’m here.”
Naji Marshall, starting because of Brandon Ingram’s hamstring injury, had 17 points and 10 rebounds.

New Orleans Pelicans centre Jaxson Hayes goes up for a dunk against Houston Rockets. PHOTO: AP

Jalen Green scored 17 points for Houston, which lost its third in four games, and David Nwaba added 15. The Rockets pushed the pace and exploited Pelicans defensive miscues for a number of uncontested dunks and layups, but also turned the ball over 25 times, leading to 30 New Orleans points.

“It was just really just the carelessness. All the careless turnovers that we had just made it kind of difficult,” said Rockets centre Christian Wood, who had 12 rebounds.

“Then they got out in transition, and we just did a bad job at getting back.”

One such sequence came when Alvarado corralled an errant pass and fed Hayes for a breakaway dunk in which he put the ball between his legs as he rose toward the rim before jamming it home with one hand. The crowd roared its approval as Hayes turned toward the stands with both arms raised.

“As soon as (Alvarado) threw it, I just looked around and didn’t see anybody,” Hayes said. “I was like, ‘All right, might as well try it.’

“Whenever we’re running, that’s when I’m at my best,” Hayes added.

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