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CJ McCollum carries Pelicans into tilt vs. Pistons

Jan 9, 2023; Washington, District of Columbia, USA;  New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (3) and forward Herbert Jones (5) during the game against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans go from one extreme to the other in their current five-game road trip.

The Boston Celtics notched their NBA-best 30th victory with a 125-114 win over the Pelicans on Wednesday. New Orleans now visits Detroit on Friday — the Pistons lead the league in losses with 33.

The Pelicans have the Western Conference’s third-best record but have lost five of their last seven games. They’re trying to survive without two of their top players, as Zion Williamson (hamstring) and Brandon Ingram (toe contusion) remain out indefinitely.

New Orleans stuck close most of the way in Boston behind CJ McCollum, who poured in 38 points.

“He’s kind of carrying us right now with guys being out,” coach Willie Green said. “We need him to score a bit more, and he’s doing it. He’s more than capable. I just wish we could have finished the game a little bit better. CJ has it going.”

That’s reflected in the monthly statistics. McCollum has appeared in five games this month, averaging 30.8 points and 4.6 assists.

“All in all, I think I liked the effort we put forth,” McCollum said. “Just trying to be aggressive. Trying to get to spots. Do what I work on. And try to be as efficient as possible each night. Especially understanding we are a little short-handed.”

The Pistons have been dealing with a number of frontcourt injuries this week, which could help Jonas Valanciunas bounce back from an off night in Boston. After posting 27 points and 12 rebounds in 28 minutes during a victory over Washington on Monday, Valanciunas was limited to 13 points and four rebounds in 23 minutes against the Celtics.

New Orleans collected a 104-98 home win over the Pistons last month as Williamson racked up 29 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

Despite frontcourt starters Jalen Duren (ankle) and Isaiah Stewart (shoulder) being sidelined, the Pistons snapped a three-game losing streak by defeating Minnesota 135-118 on Wednesday.

Third-string center Nerlens Noel has been thrust into the starting lineup the last two games. He led Detroit’s defense on Wednesday by making four blocks and three steals.

“Whatever the team needs from me,” Noel said. “I’ve always been a team guy, through everything. It’s a great group of guys, great young guys. I’m on my veteran (years), just letting knowledge, whatever they want, let them pick my brain and help them out with experiences I’ve been through. We’ve got a young frontcourt, I’m never tripping on that. I’m always here for them and when they call my number, I’ll be ready.”

The Pistons bounced back from a woeful performance the previous night, when they allowed a season-high 147 points to the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I didn’t know if we would win (Wednesday), but I knew we would come out and play hard,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “This is a very resilient group of young men, and we felt we would have better matchups.”

Detroit got a big boost from Bojan Bogdanovic, who missed the Sixers game with left calf soreness. He had 27 points, six rebounds and four assists. Saddiq Bey scored a season-high 31 points.

–Field Level Media