By Brett Martell, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — LeBron James stroked his beard as he sat in his locker and tried to make sense of Cleveland’s recent slide.
Losses to powerhouses like Golden State and San Antonio were a little easier to shake off. But Monday night’s result with New Orleans All-Star Anthony Davis in street clothes was tougher to take.
“We’re not very good right now,” James said. “A lot of it is energy and effort.”
Terrence Jones filled in brilliantly for the injured Davis, tying a career high with 36 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking James’ dunk attempt late in the fourth quarter, and the Pelicans held on for a 124-122 victory against the late-charging Cavs.
“I just wanted help my team get a win and I think that’s what I did,” Jones said.
Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists for the Pelicans, and Langston Galloway capped a 12-point night with a clean steal on James’ drive in the final minute, preventing the Cavs from erasing a deficit they had trimmed from 22 late in the first half to three with 1:32 left in the game.
Kyrie Irving scored 35 of his 49 points in the second half, mixing decisive jump shots with dazzling drives, but Cleveland fell to its fifth loss in seven games. James had 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, and Kevin Love scored 22 points for the Cavaliers, who could not quite keep pace with a Pelicans squad that tied a season high for 3-pointers with 16 and shot 49.4 percent (43 of 87).
“They definitely beat us to the punch,” Irving said. “You’ve got to give them credit. They came out and Terrence Jones and Jrue did an unbelievable job attacking the paint, getting other guys involved and other guys made big shots.”
“For us, we have a few things that we’ve got to correct, especially our interior defense,” Irving added. “Going forward, we’ll be all right.”
Donatas Moteijunas had 14 points for New Orleans, while Dante Cunningham scored 11. Each hit a pair of 3s.
The Cavs drained 15 3s, eight by Irving, whose step-back jumper from long range had Cleveland within three with 21 seconds to go, but the Cavs got no closer until Love’s anticlimactic 3 in the final second.
Embarrassed by a 29-point loss to NBA-worst Brooklyn at home on Friday, the Pelicans were eager for a chance to redeem themselves with a competitive showing against an elite team. That did not appear likely when New Orleans announced less than an hour before tip-off that Davis would be unable to play because of a lingering right leg bruise.
Coach Alvin Gentry inserted Jones for Davis as the starting center, and he responded with arguably the most dynamic half of play in the fifth-year veteran’s career. He hit all eight of his shots in the first half, scoring 22 points on an array of jumpers — including two 3s — weaving drives and feisty put-backs.
Holiday got into an equally prolific rhythm, hitting three first-half 3s and highlighting several impressive drives to the hoop with a two-handed dunk. Holiday’s pullup jumper from just inside the 3-point line with 6 seconds left in the second quarter gave him 22 points and New Orleans a 70-48 lead, and Holiday pumped his fist while one of the biggest crowds of the season went wild.
“We wanted to come out here as a team and just prove that we had a lot of fight in us,” Jones said. “We wanted to come out here without Anthony and just put on a great effort for the fans and ourselves.”
Cavaliers: Coach Tyronn Lue was assessed a technical foul by official Leroy Richardson after the coach chastised Richardson for a late whistle giving Moteijunas free throws following a missed layup. … The Cavs won the teams’ only other meeting this season, 90-82 in Cleveland on Jan. 2. … Irving slung in what would have been a sensational, off-balance, one-handed shot from about 30 feet, but it didn’t count because it came too late after Irving was fouled by Tyreke Evans as the pair pursued a loose ball near mid-court.
Pelicans: New Orleans improved to 2-2 without Davis in the lineup. … G E’Twaun Moore, who is 6-foot-4, delighted the crowd by rejecting the 6-8 James near the basket in the first half. … New Orleans shot 60.5 percent (26 of 43) in the first half.
Cavaliers: Hosts Sacramento on Wednesday night.
Pelicans: Hosts Oklahoma City on Wednesday night.
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