NEW ORLEANS — Monty Williams was hoping a return to the Crescent City after an arduous, five-game road trip would energize his weary Pelicans.
But it was the visiting Washington Wizards who played with more intensity, holding off a furious late rally in a 102-96 victory Wednesday night.
Trevor Ariza scored 21 points and John Wall added 20 to lead Washington, which is suddenly finding the road more inviting. The victory was the second road win in as many nights for the Wizards, who have now won six of seven away from home.
“There was a stretch in the first half where we had five stops in a row and scored on all five which created the lead for us,” Washington coach Randy Wittman said. “We were a little sloppy down the stretch but it was a real solid effort.”
Bradley Beal added 17 points, Jan Vesely 12 and Marcin Gortat and Nene 11 each for the Wizards. Beal made three of his first four 3-point attempts and added four assists. Vesely was 6 of 8 from the field and grabbed seven rebounds, a game-high five on the offensive end, which led Washington’s 13 second-chance points.
Gortat added 14 rebounds and former Pelican Ariza 10 to lead Washington to a 46-37 advantage on the boards.
“(Vesely) is definitely our most athletic big, and he brings a lot of energy,” Beal said. “Whenever he’s playing the way he’s capable of playing, we’re a great team.”
Eric Gordon scored 23 points and Anthony Davis 21 for the Pelicans, who were coming off of a four-game road trip that saw New Orleans endure a two-day delay in Indianapolis because of the severe winter storms that paralyzed air traffic earlier this week.
“We just did not compete in the second quarter, not to the level that they were competing,” Williams said of a period when the Pelicans were outscored 33-16 to fall behind 61-44. “There’s no excuse for that. We’ve got young guys.”
Brian Roberts scored 11 points, all in the second half, and Greg Stiemsma 10 for New Orleans, which trailed by as many as 23 in the third quarter.
“Our energy was down,” Pelicans guard Austin Rivers said. “I didn’t think we were focused. We are picking up bad habits. When we get down six or seven, we act like the game is over and the lead gets worse. That’s not coaching. That’s on us.
“It’s discipline and pride. We’ve got to have a little something inside you.”
The Pelicans trailed 87-66 to begin the fourth quarter, but opened with a 14-4 run to trim the deficit to 91-80 midway through the period. The Wizards committed turnovers on three consecutive possessions during one sloppy stretch and scored only two points during another five-minute span.
New Orleans got within 93-87 with 2:56 remaining, but could come no closer.
“The biggest deal to me was that the level of competing was different (in the fourth quarter),” Williams said. “We did not make any adjustments. We did what we were supposed to do and we had a 30 to 15 quarter.”
With the exception of an early two-minute window, Washington dominated the first half, playing energized on the defensive end and controlling the interior. The Wizards made their first five field-goal attempts in racing to an 11-6 lead.
But just as quickly, the shots quit falling and New Orleans took advantage, outscoring the Wizards 14-1 in a little more than two minutes to take a 20-12 lead with 4:21 left in the quarter. The Pelicans defense effectively sealed off the middle during the run, forcing Washington to settle for looks from the perimeter.
However, New Orleans’ spurt proved to be an early tease for the fans. The Wizards closed the quarter on a 16-8 run to tie the score at 28 and opened the second on a 12-0 run. Martell Webster’s 3-pointer gave the Wizards a 40-28 with 7:55 remaining in the quarter.
During that stretch, the Pelicans missed four shots and committed two turnovers. Washington closed the half on a 21-16 run to take a 61-44 lead.
“We were a little bit tired,” Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca said. “Sometimes it’s in the head, sometimes it’s in the legs. Tonight. it was a little bit of both.”