LOS ANGELES (AP) – Jonas Valančiūnas scored 29 of his career-high 39 points in a spectacular first half, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Los Angeles Clippers for the second time this month, 123-104 Monday night.
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New Orleans rolled to a 21-point lead in the first half with a phenomenal effort from Valančiūnas, the 10-year-old Lithuanian veteran in his first season with the Pelicans. The 6-foot-11 Valančiūnas hit seven 3-pointers without missing in the first half to the increasing delight of his teammates and even himself.
“The guys called him Dirk Valančiūnas,” New Orleans coach Willie Green said with a laugh.
Valančiūnas is not quite ready to call himself the next Dirk Nowitzki, even though at times he looked like the Dallas great.
“Everyone wants to be him,” Valančiūnas said. “He’s one of the biggest big guys in the game, but I still have to work hard to become like him.”
Valančiūnas, who surpassed his career-high 3s in the first half alone, had lost 26 points and 13 rebounds in Los Angeles 10 days earlier in the Pelicans’ 94-81 victory over New Orleans. He added 15 rebounds to his productive scoring in the rematch.
“He changed the game for us tonight,” said Brandon Ingram, who scored 27 points for New Orleans. “He came out with a lot of energy and looked like he was playing loose. He was the serpent’s head of everything we did. “
The Green and Pelicans’ coaching staff is constantly encouraging more long-range shooting from Valančiūnas, who did not make a single 3-pointer in the first five years of his NBA career in Toronto. Valančiūnas added the shot to his arsenal through years of hard work, but he is still reluctant to let go of his jumper, even though he knows it improves the Pelicans’ distance and ball movement.
An evening like this is a boon for his confidence.
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“I feel good when I see them go in,” Valančiūnas said. “I’m not safe when they do not go in. It was just a team effort. Working with the guys, getting me open, running the pieces because it’s five guys’ effort on the field.”
Paul George scored 27 points and Reggie Jackson had 19 for the Clippers, who have lost three of four and six out of nine after a winning streak of seven games.
“We just could not stop them tonight,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We were going to have a bad defensive game … but they got everything they wanted and we couldn’t get into any rhythm offensively.”
George closed the margin to eight midway through the fourth, but Ingram scored eight points in the quarter and led a 17-8 run to put it away for New Orleans. George lamented the Pelicans’ 47-35 rebound advantage.
“Every team they’re going to crash (the boards) against us,” George said. “It’s honestly our kryptonite. Every team goes against it and sends guys to the glass. They just think they can do it and there’s no penalty for it because we have not been a great transition team once we get rebounds. “We’ll just see that every night.”
Herbert Jones added 16 points to the Pelicans, who returned from their second-worst loss of the season in Utah last Saturday to end their three-game road trip with two wins.
The Pelicans have won three out of four and doubled their overall season victory in the past six days after a 3-16 start without injured Zion Williamson. Their star striker has been approved for a full return to basketball activities, further boosting New Orleans’ hopes of turning the season around.
The Clippers (11-10) still do not want Kawhi Leonard in the near future, and they are struggling to keep up with the competitive Western Conference.
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