NEW ORLEANS — Pelicans forward Christian Wood suddenly feels fortunate that he was sent packing by one of the top teams in the NBA.
Playing in just his third game for New Orleans since being waived by Milwaukee, Wood had career highs of 25 points, nine rebounds and three steals to help the Pelicans beat the Sacramento Kings 121-118 on Thursday night (Friday, Manila time).
"I'm ecstatic for it. I'm happy for it and I'm glad I finally got an opportunity," said Wood, who scored his previous career-high of 23 just two nights earlier. "I've been telling people, you know, 'Just wait. Once I get a chance, it'll be over.' I'm getting my chance and I'm showing everybody what I can do."
Julius Randle scored 34-points and grabbed 11-rebounds for New Orleans, capping his night with a driving left-handed bank shot between two defenders with 8 seconds left for the final margin.
Buddy Hield scored 27 points for the Kings, but his 3-point attempt for the tie in the final seconds rimmed out to Wood, sending the Kings (37-38) to a loss that put them on the brink of mathematical elimination from playoff contention. With seven games left, Sacramento fell 6 1/2 games behind San Antonio for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Pelicans finished with 74 points in the paint, and Sacramento coach Dave Joerger said Randle and Wood were "just too much for us," and "too strong and physical."
"We struggled as of late the last couple weeks keeping the basketball in front of us," Joerger said, adding that "74 points in the paint is a lot — enough for two games."
Elfird Payton added 16 points and nine assists to help New Orleans snap a three-game skid and win for just the second time in 11 games.
De'Aaron Fox had 25 points and 12 assists for the Kings. Willie Cauley-Stein added 18 points and 12 rebounds in an entertaining game in which there were 15 lead changes and 13 ties.
New Orleans took the lead for good when Ian Clark's 3 broke a tie with 2:33 left. The Kings twice pulled as close as a point after that, but Marvin Bagley III and Harrison Barnes both missed mid-range jumpers that could have put the Kings ahead.
While a playoff berth no longer appears realistic, the Kings still have a chance to finish with their best season since 2005-06, the last time the club ended the regular season with a winning record.
Kings: Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 14 points. Bagley and Barnes each had 10. ... Harry Giles III missed his fourth straight game with a thigh injury. ... Starting F Nemanja Bjelica left the game after playing 8 minutes with a stomach illness. ... Hield, picked sixth overall by New Orleans in the 2016 NBA draft, was sent to Sacramento during his rookie year as part of a trade that brought DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans. While Cousins moved last summer Golden State as a free agent, Hield has been flourishing with Sacramento this season, averaging a team-leading 20.8 points per game.
Pelicans: Okafor had 12 points and nine rebounds. Stanley Johnson scored 10 points. ... G Frank Jackson remained in the concussion protocol and unable to play. "He went to the doctor today and he is feeling better, but you know it is obviously out of our hands," coach Alvin Gentry said. ... F Darius Miller was ruled out during halftime with an upper left thigh strain. ... Williams briefly left the game after getting poked in the eye by Fox in the first quarter but returned and played 32 minutes.
The 6-foot-10 Wood, a fourth-year pro out of UNLV, has averaged about 8 minutes of playing time per game in his NBA career and spent virtually all of last season in the G-League. But with the Pelicans out of the playoffs and evaluating talent for the future, Wood played 32 minutes against Atlanta on Tuesday and nearly 28 minutes against Sacramento.
"It's been great, man. Everybody's giving me confidence to go out there and play and play my game," Wood said, noting that he only expects to be more effective as he and Payton become more accustomed to playing together. "Me and him are going to get it down — and when we do, it's going to be scary."
Payton set up one of Wood's inside baskets with an alley-oop lob.
"He's playing great," Payton said about Wood. "He's not forcing anything. I don't think he's taken a bad shot since he got here. Everything is within the flow of the offense, which is tough coming in."
Cauley-Stein threw down a soaring, right-handed dunk on Jahlil Okafor in the second quarter. And on the Pelicans' ensuing possession, Cauley-Stein flipped over Okafor's back after being drawn off his feet by Okafor's up-fake. Cauley Stein appeared to nearly land on his head but rose to his feet with no apparent injury.
Kings: At Houston on Saturday night.
Pelicans: Host the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.