New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) dunks over Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) and forward Taurean Prince (12) during the first half of an NBA basketball game at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. (Photo by Scott Threlkeld, The Times-Picayune)

The New Orleans Pelicans narrowly avoided suffering their worst regular-season loss in franchise history when they met the Los Angeles Lakers in Las Vegas earlier this month. A little more than three weeks after getting crushed by 44 points, the Pelicans got a chance to redeem themselves Sunday.

The Lakers, who played Saturday, were on the second night of a back-to-back. The conditions for the Pelicans to exact revenge were ripe, and the Pelicans didn't waste their opportunity.

The Pelicans scored 74 points in the first half, an offensive outburst that pushed them to a 129-109 win over the Lakers on Sunday at Smoothie King Center. Zion Williamson scored 26 points, and CJ McCollum added 22 points as New Orleans (19-14) moved to 2-2 on its five-game home stand, which concludes Tuesday.

“It was one of those blessings in disguise," Williamson said about losing to the Lakers in early December. "It sucked. We went to Vegas hoping for a different outcome. I think it definitely brought us together more as a team. It definitely brought us closer as a staff. Everyone communicating. I feel like we have been playing great. We still have some things to figure out. But so does every other team.”

When the Pelicans and Lakers met on Dec. 7, New Orleans made seven 3-pointers. On Sunday, New Orleans converted that many 3-pointers in the first quarter. Los Angeles flashed a zone defense. New Orleans solved it by getting the ball to McCollum.

McCollum made five 3-pointers in the first nine minutes of the game. With 3:39 in the first quarter, McCollum nailed a triple from the right corner, which put the Pelicans ahead by 10 and caused the Lakers to take a timeout.

Before the game, Pelicans coach Green acknowledged that his team “definitely remember what happened” when Los Angeles ended New Orleans’ run in the In-Season Tournament.

The Pelicans played like they had a point to prove Sunday. 

“I think it just started with in the first meeting, they brought the game to us," Williamson said. "Our whole thing was we want to bring the game to them. We did a good job of that.”

No one embodied New Orleans' force and physicality more than backup point guard Jose Alvarado. Early in the second quarter, Jaxson Hayes — the former Pelicans lottery pick who signed with the Lakers in July — tried to post Alvarado up. Alvarado took the ball from him.

Later in the quarter, Alvarado lingered near the baseline after a Pelicans made 3. Alvardo waited for LeBron James to take a few dribbles before sneaking up behind him for one of his patented “Grand Theft Alvarado” steals. Alvarado threw a cross-court pass to Herb Jones, who made a 3 from the right corner — one of three 3-pointers Jones made in the first half.

Alvarado’s impact in 19 minutes was enormous. He scored eight points, grabbed four steals and blocked two shots.

“He’s one of our emotional leaders," Green said. "His ability to impact this team with his energy, his effort, it was huge tonight. Some big steals that led to transition baskets for us. Once again, it’s a blessing to have a guy like that on your team who can really ignite the whole building.”

The Pelicans got contributions from everywhere. All five of their starters scored in double figures, and so did backup big man Larry Nance Jr., who contributed 11 points.

Brandon Ingram, who took on the assignment of guarding James, had another impactful all-around outing. Ingram scored 26 points and handed out eight assists. He also notched three steals and two blocks.

With 1:16 remaining, Ingram connected on a 3 from the right wing, despite getting fouled. The Lakers, who trailed by 20 at that point, waived the white flag and subbed James out.

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