Pelicans Trail Blazers Basketball

New Orleans Pelicans guard Trey Murphy III, right, drives to the basket past Portland Trail Blazers forward Jerami Grant during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Saturday Feb. 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)?

Last season, it took the New Orleans Pelicans until March 30 to win their 15th road game.

This season, the Pelicans hit that benchmark in mid-February.

On Wednesday, the Pelicans held off the Los Angeles Clippers and their starry trio of James Harden, Paul George and James Harden 117-106 at Crypto.com Arena. Then on Saturday, the Pelicans beat a far less talented Portland Trail Blazers team 93-84 at Moda Center.

Those results pushed the Pelicans’ road record to 16-12, meaning that New Orleans has exceeded its road win total from last season with 13 away games remaining.?

“Mentally tough,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “Proud of our guys. They fought. This is a tough win to come into this building on a back-to-back and play against a young, hungry team that is scrappy. Credit to all of our guys in that locker room. We did what we needed to do to come out with that win.”

The Pelicans did not have Zion Williamson, who sat out on the second night of a back-to-back. Trey Murphy stepped into the starting lineup in Williamson’s absence and played one of his best games in months.

Murphy scored 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting. It was the first time Murphy had scored 20 or more points since Dec. 21.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Murphy said. “I’ve been struggling a little bit. I know that. I’ve been trying to be better. Hopefully, it’s the start of something new.”

The Trail Blazers were missing seven players due to injury, including leading scorer Anfernee Simons. They were so injury depleted, they started 10-day contract signee Ashton Hagans in the back court.

The Pelicans still did not win easily. They clung to a one-point lead after three quarters. They finally started to create separation midway through the fourth quarter. Herb Jones’ layup with 5:04 remaining increased New Orleans’ lead to 12 points.

Jones finished with 14 points. All of New Orleans' starters scored in double figures except for CJ McCollum, who shot 2 of 14 from the field against his old team.

The Pelicans won their second game of the season when they scored fewer than 100 points. Their grinding game against the Trail Blazers was a stark contrast to Friday, when the Pelicans scored 122 points but still lost by 17 to the Los Angeles Lakers.

“One night was a scoring frenzy and tonight was like a defensive grind type of game,” Green said. “We did a good job defensively contesting shots. Keeping them out of our paint. Rebounding the ball. When we come with that type of mindset, we give ourselves a chance to win games.”

The Pelicans (31-22) have two games remaining before the All-Star break. Their four-game road trip concludes Monday against the Memphis Grizzlies. Then, they face the Washington Wizards at home.

In the final two months of the regular season, the Pelicans’ primary goal is to get a top-six seed so they can get to the playoffs and avoid the Western Conference play-in tournament.?

New Orleans’ improvement as a road team is one reason why the team is relatively well positioned at nine games above .500 as the All-Star break approaches. The last time a Pelicans team finished with a winning road record was 2017-18.

That season, the Pelicans got the West’s sixth seed and upset the Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs.

Email Christian Clark at cclark@theadvocate.com.