NEW ORLEANS — The names on the back of the New Orleans Pelicans’ jerseys might as well be written in Sanskrit they are so unfamiliar, even to hardened NBA fans.
However, what Luke Babbitt, Toney Douglas, Tim Frazier, Jordan Hamilton and James Ennis have going for them is a burning desire to play hard for the front of their jerseys.
Babbitt, a rarely used small forward, scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds — his first double-double as a Pelican and only the second of his career — and backup point guard Douglas added 20 points and 10 assists to lead the injury-riddled Pelicans to a 101-95 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night at the Smoothie King Center.
Babbitt scored 12 points in the first quarter, and his driving layup past Kenneth Faried and two free throws in the final two minutes secured the victory, only the fifth in 18 games for the Pelicans (28-47).
Babbitt has been buried on the bench most of the season and could not recall the last time he came close to a double-double.
“No, I can’t, but that doesn’t matter to me,” Babbitt said. “It’s more just getting a win. When you’re playing small like we were, it gives you more opportunities to get rebounds when (center) Omer (Asik) is not hogging them all.”
New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said he was thrilled not just with the victory but also with the way role players who are logging unusually high minutes are performing. For Douglas, it was only the fourth double-double of his career and his first since 2011.
“A lot of times people may think that we don’t have the players, but if you do the system right, it’ll still work,” Douglas said.
Frazier, who was signed three weeks ago on a 10-day contract due to the Pelicans’ rash of injuries, scored 17 points and dished out eight assists. Frazier teamed with Hamilton, another NBA Development League pickup, to score 18 of the Pelicans’ 24 fourth-quarter points.
Ennis, signed two days ago from the D-League, added 11 points, but his biggest contribution came in the fourth quarter when he pulled down four offensive rebounds.
“I’m just really proud of these guys,” Gentry said. “They play hard, they play together, they don’t read anything in the papers about us not being good enough. They give all the effort that they can possibly give, and it’s fun to coach them.”
Frazier was 6-for-12 from the field, including 3-for-5 from 3-point range, and he saved his biggest bucket for last, nailing a 3-pointer from the right wing with 45 seconds left to give New Orleans its biggest lead, 99-91.
Babbitt said Frazier, only in his second NBA season out of Penn State, is starting to make a name for himself along with Douglas, a seven-year vet.
“We still have (injured) guys like Anthony Davis in the locker room in our ear,” Babbitt said. “But on the court, Toney’s been a great leader, and, believe it or not, Tim. Any time you have a point guard setting the tone, that’s great. The new guys who have gotten here have been great.”
The Nuggets (32-45) were led by Darrell Arthur with 24 points and nine rebounds, but Arthur had to sit out the final five minutes because his knees were bothering him, said Denver coach Michael Malone.
“Luke Babbitt kicked our (tail) in the first half,” Malone said. “He looked like Chris Mullin out there. He could do whatever he wanted — scored, one on one. We had nobody who could guard him in the first half.”
Denver guard Gary Harris said, “(Babbitt) was real aggressive. They have a lot of guys out, so he’s the guy that needs to step up for them now.”
Malone said giving up 14 offensive rebounds to the Pelicans also was a critical factor.
“Last night in Memphis, we gave up 20 offensive rebounds, and tonight we give up 14 offensive rebounds, and James Ennis has five of those,” Malone said. “On the season, when we are outrebounded, we’re 4-20. That’s a big part of what we preach every day.”
NOTES: Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he was proud of his team’s first winning month of the season (9-8). “We had a very good homestand where we played very well, won five in a row,” he said. “Went on the road and faced tough teams in the East. Struggled a little bit but found our way to have our first winning month of the season, so that is progress being made as we end year one.” … Malone said PG D.J. Augustin, a New Orleans native, is giving the Nuggets good scoring off the bench. Augustin had nine points Thursday. “He plays under control and has a great assist-turnover ratio,” Malone said. “I close a lot of games with him on the floor. He’s somebody that you trust.” … Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry has watched a lot of college hoops in the past two weeks, looking in on potential draftees. “Everybody keep your fingers crossed, OK?” he said. “Let’s move up a few spots.”