NEW ORLEANS — Anthony Davis has been in monster mode during his second season, so it was no surprise that a lot of the Utah Jazz’s pregame talk and preparation was focused on the All-Star power forward.
“Man,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said after the morning shootaround, “he’s having a tremendous year.”
Turns out, The Unibrow isn’t the only player on the New Orleans Pelicans’ squad who can do damage.
Less than four minutes into this contest, Davis, the first pick in 2012, left for good with an ankle injury, but veteran guards Tyreke Evans and Anthony Morrow sparked the Pelicans to a 102-95 victory over the reeling Jazz.
Evans used his athleticism and 6-6 size to his advantage at the point guard position, playing one of his best games with 22 points and a career-high 15 assists. Along with that stellar showing, Morrow contributed 20 points with three 3-pointers as New Orleans won its fifth-straight game.
The surging Pelicans, winners in nine of 12 games, also got a combined 37 points from forward Al-Farouq Aminu and reserves Austin Miller Rivers and Darius Miller to improve to 32-40.
That is why Corbin chuckled when asked if he was disappointed the Jazz didn’t take advantage of Davis’ absence at New Orleans Arena.
“You know, the other guys are NBA players also. I thought the guys played hard,” Corbin said. “Their guys came in, they made shots.”
Evans, the former Sacramento King, really punished the Jazz with his all-around game, which also included five rebounds. Utah playmaker Trey Burke, who’s just 6-1, was limited to 12 points and six assists in the mismatch.
“I’ve been watching him since like high school. That was one of the (best) times I’ve seen him play like that, where he’s able to score and contribute and kind of control the game like that,” the 21-year-old Burke said. “He’s a good player. You can’t take nothing away from him. He’s a veteran guard.”
The Pelicans shot 50.7 percent from the field, including 6 of 14 from 3-point range, to continue their anti-tanking efforts of winning despite being out of the playoff picture.
Utah helped New Orleans’ cause by being imprudent with the basketball. The Jazz turned the ball over 19 times, resulting in 33 points for the home team. Center Enes Kanter had a team-high six turnovers while only scoring eight points with three rebounds.
The turnovers rankled Corbin more than how his team didn’t force its will without Davis in the paint.
“They played a better game,” Corbin said. “They made the shots when they had to make them.”
The Jazz didn’t shoot poorly (48.5 percent), but a 16-point second quarter came back to haunt Utah, which played the Pelicans dead even in the other three quarters.
That resulted in Utah losing its 50th game of the season, with just 23 wins (tied for the lowest in franchise history with the inaugural 1974-75 New Orleans Jazz team). This is the first time the Jazz have fallen 50 times since they went 26-56 the year after Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone left the organization in 2004-05.
“We’ve just got to continue to fight,” Jazz point guard Trey Burke said. “We’ve got to find ways to close those games out. It felt like we definitely had a chance to win tonight.”
Shooting guard Gordon Hayward, who led the Jazz with 21 points, got Utah to within one, 80-79, with a jumper at the 4:20 mark of the fourth quarter.
But, as has happened so many times recently, the Jazz wilted down the stretch. New Orleans hit 13 of 17 free throws in the final minute to clinch the victory with Davis in the training room.
“Whenever a team’s best player goes down, other guys try to step up, try to fill that void,” Jazz center Derrick Favors said. “Their whole team just started playing harder. The other guys did a god job of just being aggressive without him being in there.”
Favors had another double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, mostly against Davis’ backup, 7-2 center Alexis Ajinca.
The Jazz big man admitted it was disappointing that his team didn’t do a better job of exploiting New Orleans without their main man.
“Anthony Davis is a good player,” Favors said. “When he went down, we should have taken advantage of that and tried to get the win.”
Instead, Utah, which next plays Sunday afternoon at Oklahoma City, lost for the 14th time in 16 outings. The Jazz now find themselves in their eighth separate losing streak of at least three games this season.
That, even though the Pelicans were without key players Davis, Eric Gordon (knee), Jason Smith (knee), Jrue Holiday (leg) and Ryan Anderson (back).
“You have to and try to impose your will, (but) they have a lot of talented guys up there,” Jazz small forward Richard Jefferson said. “They were missing three All-Stars pretty much in Eric Gordon, (Davis) and (Smith) — four if you want to include Ryan Anderson in that — and we still couldn’t get it down.”