NEW ORLEANS (AP) — When Alex Caruso followed up a breakaway dunk with his fourth 3-pointer of the game, several of his Lakers teammates sprang off the bench in a high-stepping, dance-like celebration.
Caruso scored a career-high 23 points in just his 20th NBA game of the season, and Los Angeles beat the New Orleans Pelicans 130-102 on Sunday night.
“With Alex, usually what he does is just play hard. He sacrifices his body and by the end of the game he’s got a couple bruises and whatnot,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “So when you see him hitting pull-up 3s, I think as a teammate you get a little extra excited.”
JaVale McGee had 23 points and 16 rebounds, and former Pelican Rajon Rondo added 24 points and 12 assists for Los Angeles in a game missing both teams’ biggest stars: the Lakers’ LeBron James and the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis.
Former Laker Julius Randle scored 17 points for New Orleans in 23 minutes before leaving the game to have an X-ray on his left index finger, which the team said came back negative.
Caruso — a 6-foot-5 guard who played four seasons at Texas A&M before turning pro in 2016 — is on a two-way contract and has spent much of this season in the G League with the South Bay Lakers. Against New Orleans, he was 7-of-11 shooting, hitting all four of his 3-point shots. He also had a steal that set up his soaring one-handed dunk.
“I was just kind of on a roll,” Caruso said. “New career high — that’s cool. Winning the game is fun, too. But, I mean, for me, it’s always been about just progressing.
“Every game for me is a job application, is me going out there and showing this is where I’m supposed to be — I’m one of the best 350 to 400 players in the world and I want to be in this league,” Caruso added. “I try to play as hard as I can, regardless of the situation. That’s what I’ve tried to do my whole career. It’s gotten me this far.”
Caruso scored 12 of his points in the third quarter, when the Lakers outscored the Pelicans 44-22 to open up a 105-84 lead.
Christian Wood, acquired recently by New Orleans after Milwaukee placed him on waivers, had 15 points and 11 rebounds, marking the third time in just four games with his new club that he has scored in double digits.
But the Pelicans were plagued by mistakes, namely 24 turnovers that led to 32 Lakers points.
“You’re not going to win any basketball games where you’re in the thirties as far as points off turnovers,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “A lot of their points in the third quarter came off of turnovers. We had 12 turnovers at the half against a team that doesn’t really force a lot of turnovers. We just didn’t play very well.”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 19 for the Lakers, who won’t be going to the playoffs but have won four of five as they try to build toward next season.
Lakers: F Kyle Kuzma was ruled out shortly before tip-off and added to the club’s injury report with left foot tendinitis. ... While James hasn’t commented publicly about the Lakers’ decision to sit him for the final six regular season games to rest his sore left groin, Walton said James would have chosen to keep playing. “He wants to play,” Walton said. “The medical staff has finally said, ‘Look, it’s just not worth it anymore. Let’s make sure we have a healthy summer.’” ... C Mike Muscala had 10 points off the bench.
Pelicans: Davis missed his third straight game with lower back spasms. ... G Frank Jackson missed his second straight game since being diagnosed with a concussion. ... F Darius Miller missed his first game since being diagnosed Friday with a left adductor strain. ... G E’Twaun Moore missed his 11th straight game with a bruised left quadriceps.
Lakers forward Reggie Bullock returned after missing four games with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. He scored 18 points in nearly 24 minutes, going 4 of 6 from 3-point range.
“For sure, I’m a little winded. I was just trying to actually, in the game, keep moving without the ball to be able to work on my conditioning,” Bullock said. “It felt good. Obviously it’s not all the way back to 100 percent.”
Lakers: Visit Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.
Pelicans: Host Charlotte on Wednesday night.