McCollum continues scoring spree, Pelicans top Suns 117-102
By DAVID BRANDT
PHOENIX (AP) CJ McCollum's still working on his on-court chemistry with Brandon Ingram and the rest of the New Orleans Pelicans.
The early returns are promising.
McCollum continued his scorching start with his new team by scoring 32 points, Ingram added 28 and the Pelicans earned an impressive road win over the Phoenix Suns, 117-102 on Friday night.
"We're just starting to figure it out," Pelicans coach Willie Green said about the McCollum-Ingram pairing. "There's a lot of work in front of us, but those two guys were spectacular."
McCollum is averaging about 30 points over six games since joining the Pelicans in a trade from his longtime home in Portland. The 6-foot-3 guard made 11 of 18 shots from the field. The veteran's arrival in New Orleans has given the team a boost as it chases a spot in the Western Conference playoff race.
"My goodness, he's amazing out there," Pelicans forward Naji Marshall said.
Jonas Valanciunas added 18 points and 17 rebounds for New Orleans. Green said a recent dinner with the coach, McCollum and Ingram was beneficial in helping both players figure out their roles in the new-look offense.
"When you have a good relationship with someone off the court, it's easier to communicate effectively on the court, it's easier to hold each other accountable," McCollum said.
It was a rare loss for the Suns, who are still adjusting to life without injured All-Star point guard Chris Paul. They had won eight straight and 19 of 20.
The Pelicans jumped out to a 95-81 lead by the end of the third quarter and cruised to the win in their first game after the All-Star break.
The Suns were playing their second game without Paul, who fractured his thumb against the Rockets on Feb. 16. He could miss the regular season though the team is hopeful he'll be back in time for the playoffs.
In Paul's place, Suns coach Monty Williams has asked the other half of the team's All-Star backcourt - Devin Booker - to take more of a role in setting up the offense even though that's not necessarily his natural role.
Booker said he's not complaining.
"We just have to find ways," Booker said. "Every game is going to be a new learning experience for us. It will take a collective group, a whole unit. ... This will be a good learning experience."
The strategy worked in a win at Oklahoma City on Thursday night when Booker finished with 25 points and 12 assists. It was less effective against the Pelicans: Booker finished with 30 points but had just five assists as the Suns' offense looked stagnant for chunks of the game.
New Orleans had a 53-50 lead at halftime. McCollum had 16 points for the Pelicans before the break, while Booker scored 16 points for the Suns.
The Suns had a scare in the first half when backup forward Torrey Craig took a hard tumble while trying to defend a fast-break layup.
Craig was down for a few minutes while holding his right knee. The veteran briefly went back to the locker room but returned to the bench and eventually re-entered the game.
Craig was part of the team's NBA Finals run last season after being acquired in a trade from the Milwaukee Bucks. He signed with the Pacers during the offseason but the Suns dealt for him again at the trade deadline and he's once again become a big part of the playing rotation.
Pelicans: Coach Willie Green was back in Phoenix for the second time since becoming New Orleans' head coach. Green was Williams' top assistant during last year's Finals run. ... McCollum reached 500 career steals.
Duns: G Aaron Holiday missed Friday's game with a sore ankle. Coach Monty Williams said Holiday hurt the ankle in Oklahoma City, but was able to finish the game. ... Craig grabbed his 1,000 career rebound in the game.
Pelicans: At Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.
Suns: Host Utah on Sunday.
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Updated February 26, 2022