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Evans leads Pelicans to win over Knicks

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NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Pelicans have a load of young, talented players still tip-toeing through the land mines of the Western Conference, and after a 104-93 victory over the New York Knicks on Tuesday night at the Smoothie King Center, they are back at .500 through 20 games.

But slashing guard Tyreke Evans, who scored a game-high 27 points to carry the Pelicans to back-to-back victories for the first time since mid-November, is setting his sights much higher than 10-10.

“I thought coming off a (104-87 road) win (against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday) we might be sluggish, but we picked it up in the second half and were able to do it on the defensive end and get out on offense,” Evans said about holding the Knicks to 41 second-half points. “We’ve been having some tough games traveling, but that’s part of the league. We’ve just got to stay focused and together and hopefully build up some wins.”

Forward Anthony Davis overcame a sluggish start to score 13 of his 18 points in the second half, sending the Knicks (4-19) to their ninth consecutive loss. The Knicks had beaten the Pelicans four straight times in New Orleans, but they fell to 1-10 on the road this season.

A huge factor was the ease with which Evans got into the lane. Evans made 11-of-15 attempts, and most were within 3 feet of the basket as he broke down the Knicks’ perimeter defense.

The Pelicans outscored the Knicks 54-40 in the paint, and that didn’t sit well with New York coach Derek Fisher.

“We talked ad nauseum about keeping this team out of the paint — the No. 1 team in the league in points in the paint,” Fisher said. “I’m not sure why we couldn’t hold on to that thought while we were out there on the floor.”

“They just got to the paint, made dump-offs, got second shots and finished at the rim,” Smith said, referring the Pelicans’ 43-30 rebounding edge.

The Knicks got a season-high 26 points from center Amar’e Stoudemire and 17 each from forward Carmelo Anthony and guard J.R. Smith.

The Pelicans scored the first six points of the fourth quarter, with three coming on a driving layup and free throw by guard Jrue Holiday and the other three on a long-range jumper by guard Austin Rivers, to take an 83-73 lead with 10:42 left.

Davis couldn’t get his outside shot to fall in the first half, so he made a conscious effort to work inside in the third quarter, scoring 11 points in the period, including two dunks and a layup, as the Pelicans built a 77-70 lead.

“I just couldn’t make shots,” Davis said. “You’re going to have nights like that when you can’t make shots. Everybody else was, though. I told the guys, don’t try to force-feed me if it’s not there. You all go out there and play and I’ll do the rest of the stuff.”

The Pelicans shot 57 percent from the field in the first half but led only 54-52, as neither team held greater than a five-point lead.

Stoudemire worked over the Pelicans in the lane with 16 first-half points on 7-of-11 shooting, and Anthony and Smith added 10 points each for the Knicks.

Evans kept the Pelicans’ sputtering offense going, driving to the basket at every opportunity and making seven of eight from the floor for 15 first-half points and four assists. Davis missed five of six shots in the first half, and he picked up an inadvertent flagrant foul when he swiped Smith with a forearm to the throat on a defensive switch.

New Orleans wound up hitting 50 percent of its shots from the floor, while New York shot 47.4 percent.

NOTES: In evaluating his team’s progress at the 20-game mark, Pelicans coach Monty Williams said it is still a work in progress. “We know the things we have to work on,” Williams said. “Our bench is improving. Our half-court defense is getting better. We’re taking care of the ball. Obviously, we’d love to have a few more wins, but we feel good about where we’re going.” … Out of necessity, the Pelicans are making increased use of newly signed SF Dante Cunningham, who played 12, 21, 25 and 31 minutes, respectively, in his first four games. “Dante gives us a lot of energy and toughness and experience,” Williams said. … Ten of the Knicks’ 19 losses were by five or fewer points. “Starting and finishing games is about mindset and mentality,” New York coach Derek Fisher said. “There is just a mentality you take into a game that says we’re going to find a way to win.”

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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