The New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Houston Rockets 122-115 on the road behind a tremendous performance by Lonzo Ball on his return.
The Pels reshuffled their starting lineup for the tenth time this season with Ball’s return. The former UCLA guard missed the previous seven games because of a hip injury, but led New Orleans in minutes, points, assists, and steals in his comeback game.
Stan Van Gundy was still without Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart. Against the Rockets, Kira Lewis Jr. was added to the Pels’ injury report with a right calf strain. This meant that an unusual frontcourt duo of both Jaxson Hayes and Steven Adams got the start. It is a rarity to see two centers start together in the NBA nowadays.
Despite that, all of the Pels’ starters broke double digits and all but two players that were active scored 10 points. It was a valiant effort from an injury-ridden team that is still close to qualifying for the playoff play-in tournament.
Meanwhile, the Rockets were without John Wall, Eric Gordon, David Nwaba, and Dante Exum among others. Danuel House Jr. sustained an injury during the game; ditto for Nickeil Alexander-Walker on the New Orleans side of things.
Stephen Silas’ team is one of the worst in the NBA, at one point embarking on a franchise-record 20-game losing streak. This was a game the Pelicans were expected to win.
Here are the player grades for the Pels’ win against the Rockets, starting with my personal MVP:
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Houston Rockets: Grading the best player
LONZO BALLGuard, New Orleans Pelicans
What a showing from Lonzo Ball on his return.
Ball was tremendous all night long. He scored 27 points in 37 minutes, while also picking up nine assists. Ball was automatic from beyond the arc.
He took a career-high 15 threes and made eight of them. At this point, it’s no surprise to see Ball fire up a high volume of threes, but he was really feeling it from the perimeter against Houston. Ball became just one of five Pels players in history to score at least eight threes in a game.
The Pelicans have missed Ball’s playmaking in his absence. He makes the complicated look simple and makes the simple look routine. He had six turnovers to his nine assists, but that was just a byproduct of a little rustiness to shake off and that the Pelicans relied on him heavily.
Finally, Ball’s defense was very much welcomed by a Pelicans team that had been struggling on this end of the floor. I’ve said it time and time again, but he has the potential to be one of the premier guard defenders in the NBA.
Just watch how Ball guarded the Rockets’ ballhandlers on Sunday night and how the Pels’ guards defended in the last game. There is a world of difference.