The Phoenix Suns’ road trip has been more successful than the New Orleans Pelicans’ homestand.
The Suns, winners of three straight and 2-0 on their trip, finish it Wednesday night in New Orleans, where the Pelicans have lost two straight after winning the first two games of their homestand.
Phoenix received a boost Monday when All-Star guard Devin Booker returned from a four-game absence due to a hamstring injury. He scored 24 points, including a 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left that produced a 109-108 victory at Dallas.
“I’ve been waiting to get back out there,” Booker said. “I think we’re making a push right now.”
Booker started slowly, scoring just four first-half points, but he heated up in the second half and the hamstring felt well enough for him to play the entire fourth quarter.
“He’s got the heart to take those shots,” Suns coach Monty Williams said of the game-winner. “I love when guys make those shots, but when you have the courage to take them and deal with the results, those are the things I look for when you are drawing up the play or when you’re working with someone like Devin.”
Fellow All-Star guard Chris Paul led the Suns with a season-high 34 points and added nine rebounds and nine assists.
“I was telling the guys in the locker room I don’t know if I can ever retire,” said Paul, who is in his 16th season. “There’s no high like the energy when you’re mad and then get to enjoy winning the games.”
If the Pelicans are going to end their homestand on a winning note they’re going to have to defend Booker and Paul better than they defended another standout guard — Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox — on Monday.
Fox had 38 points and 12 assists as the Kings came from behind in the fourth quarter to win 118-109.
The defensive breakdowns were a familiar problem for the Pelicans, who are just 5-11 during a stretch that began with a 111-86 loss at Phoenix on Dec. 29.
“We’ve just got to recommit ourselves to the defensive end,” guard Josh Hart said, “focus on getting stops, focus on being in the right position, making the calls, communicating, having our teammates’ back. Once we really focus in on those things this losing will cease.”
Hart was one of two Pelicans to have a double-double off the bench. He finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Seldom-used center Willy Hernangomez took advantage of his first opportunity to play double-figure minutes this season and finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Hernangomez’s opportunity came because of the absence of starting center Steven Adams, who has a sore calf. Jaxson Hayes started in Adams’ place and Hernangomez assumed Hayes’ usual role.
“Your decision becomes basically, ‘Are you going to play him and take the minutes from a young guy like Jaxson Hayes?'” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “That’s what it comes down to, and that’s really as simple as a decision gets. It’s either he or Jaxson when Steven’s back healthy.”
–Field Level Media