NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Pelicans have struggled through so much adversity this season that they can be excused for celebrating even modest achievements.
After forward Anthony Davis scored a game-high 29 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lift the Pelicans to a 112-104 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night — the Pelicans’ second straight win after eight consecutive losses — the second-year All-Star was practically giddy talking about the difference that guard Tyreke Evans has made in the starting lineup for the last five games.
Evans, who always seems to be headed to the basket even when the paint is slammed shut, poured in 25 points — including six free throws down the stretch — to ice the game. Evans also had seven assists in freeing up Davis on the offensive end.
“When he’s playing like that, we’re a tough team,” Davis said of Evans, who replaced offensively challenged Al-Farouq Aminu in the starting lineup when the losing streak forced coach Monty Williams into shaking things up. “He’s attacking, being aggressive. He’s always saying, ‘Step on the gas. We ain’t stopping at no stores or nothing.’ We’re on the gas all night.”
Coming off a 28-point, 15-rebound effort in a 132-125 road victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, Davis took command with 16 first-half points. The Pelicans (25-37) led by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter before Milwaukee cut it to 104-99 with 1:17 left.
But Evans made six consecutive free throws to ice the victory, the 14th in 16 games against the Bucks, who have the NBA’s worst record at 12-49.
The Pelicans closed the third quarter with six consecutive points, including a baseline drive and an off-balance jumper by Davis for a 78-77 lead. Davis then opened the fourth quarter with a driving layup and foul shot and hit a 15-foot jumper to extend the lead to 83-79.
Reserve shooting guard Anthony Morrow came off the bench to score hit 12 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter. In one 3:03 stretch, Morrow scored 10 of the Pelicans’ 12 points, including two 3-pointers.
“We let Anthony Morrow get away from us,” Milwaukee coach Larry Drew said. “We go into the game and we have a game plan against Davis and Tyreke Evans and (Eric) Gordon and guys like that. It was the guys off the bench who ended up hurting us.”
The Bucks already were playing without forward Ersan Ilyasova, who was suspended for a game for throwing a punch at Sacramento forward Reggie Evans in a loss on Wednesday. Then, in the second quarter, guard O.J. Mayo was ejected for throwing a right hand that landed in the throat area of Pelicans backup center Greg Steimsma.
Mayo, who lost his starting job earlier this season, played only three minutes and did not score when he was called for the Flagrant-2 foul. Mayo apparently was angered at Steimsma’s hard pick, which sent him to the floor.
“I thought (Steimsma) did a good job of keeping his composure when Mayo took a swing at him,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said.
Davis had 16 points and six rebounds in helping the Pelicans take a 51-49 halftime lead. Evans added 11 points in the half but was particularly tough down the stretch when the Bucks cut the least to five points and the Pelicans needed Evans to continue driving and make his foul shots.
Evans said he relishes the chance to start as he did when he played in Sacramento. Until two weeks ago, he had been coming off the bench to provide scoring punch for the second unit. Now he and Davis are creating some havoc — if defenses collapse on Evans during a drive to the basket, Davis or an outside shooter usually is freed up.
“It’s been fun,” Evans said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be. We both like to play together. We both work hard. To see is both going like that, it just makes things better for our team.”
The Bucks got 25 points from forward Khris Middleton and a career-high 20 points from reserve forward Jeff Adrien.
NOTES: Bucks F John Henson started in place of F Ersan Ilyasova, who was suspended by the league for one game after punching Kings F Reggie Evans in a scrum under the basket during a 116-102 home loss to Sacramento on Wednesday night. Milwaukee coach Larry Drew said he did not see the suspension coming. It cost Ilyasova a $71,000 game check. “I never knew that the incident had happened,” said Drew, who did not review the videotape. “But obviously the league looked at instant replay and felt that the play warranted suspension. We were kind of aware that there was discussion going on this morning at our shootaround, and we had to prepare ourselves if he was suspended. It’s unfortunate, but we’ve got to keep moving forward.” … In four previous starts since replacing Al-Farouq Aminu, Pelicans G Tyreke Evans averaged 21.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
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