NEW ORLEANS — It took Rajon Rondo 20 games in a Pelicans uniform to rewrite franchise record books.
As Rondo gains more comfort with his new team — and its unusual lineup featuring two dynamic All-Star big men — his ability to recognize mismatches and put talented scorers in advantageous spots could be exactly what New Orleans needs.
Rondo set a franchise record with a career-high 25 assists in just 30 minutes on the court, Anthony Davis had 33 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks, and the Pelicans beat the Brooklyn Nets 128-113 on Wednesday night.
“The No. 1 thing is we got the win. And then me, personally, I love passing the ball,” Rondo said. “I’ve been blessed to play with a lot of great players, and what I take pride in is making those guys’ jobs easier.”
Rondo was quick to point out that his whole team moved the ball well and shot accurately. The Pelicans had a record 40 assists as a team on 48 total field goals.
“That speaks for itself. It wasn’t just me,” Rondo said. “The ball was hopping, and we were making plays for one another.”
Cousins said Rondo made it look “easy.”
The Pelicans “looked like the Harlem Globetrotters at one point,” Cousins added. “It’s fun to play that way.”
Davis even credited Rondo, who missed the start of the season with an abdominal injury, for improving team defense.
“He’s been getting on me about not blocking shots, so for the last couple games, I’ve been trying to just go after everything,” Davis said.
Sitting on the edge of the Western Conference playoff picture, the Pelicans entered their current three-game homestand looking to string together victories against teams that have struggled on the road.
They got off to a solid start against Brooklyn, leading by as many as 16 in the first quarter, 23 in the second and 33 in the third.
“We just did not have the defensive mentality and defensive discipline to get stops. They are a potent offensive team,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We should have more resiliency, more understanding of the situation. Sure, they are a big team, but you can negate that with your activity. You can negate that by denying passes, by getting deflections.”
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry pulled his starters in the third quarter, only to have to put them back in following a 17-0 Nets run that trimmed New Orleans’ lead to 91-75 heading into the fourth.
Caris LeVert scored 22 points, Nik Stauskas added 21, and both were instrumental in Brooklyn’s brief surge. But the Pelicans’ lineup of Davis, Cousins, Holiday, Rondo and E’Twaun Moore, who had 20 points, quickly created separation again and set up a stress-free finish.
“When their starters came back in, they kind of punched us in the mouth again. But at least we tried our hardest and made the game respectful,” Stauskas said. “What I have learned in my four years in the league is when you are out there, you have to compete.”
The only drama in the latter stages of the fourth quarter was whether Rondo would eclipse franchise and career marks for assists. He broke Chris Paul‘s mark with his 22nd assist and set a new personal best with his 25th, then came to the bench to a standing ovation and a congratulatory handshake from Gentry.
Pelicans: Davis was 4-for-4 from 3-point range, and the Pelicans went 17-of-33 (51.5 percent) from deep overall. … Injured small forward Solomon Hill, who has been away from the club in Los Angeles while rehabilitating from surgery to repair an offseason hamstring tear, attended the game and sat on the bench in street clothes. It remains unclear when he’ll be cleared to play, but when the season began, he was not expected back until February.
Rondo is the only active player with 25 assists in a game and among only seven players in NBA history to reach the mark, with the others being Scott Skiles, John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson, Nate McMillan and Isiah Thomas.
“It’s definitely an honor to be mentioned with those guys, especially with passing the ball, which I take pride in,” Rondo said. “But I couldn’t have done it without my teammates making shots, so I’ve got to give those guys the credit.”
Nets: Visit Miami on Friday night.
Pelicans: Host Dallas on Friday night.