The New Orleans Pelicans were closing fast on the final playoff spot in the Western Conference before losing more than just their longest winning streak of the season.
However, Anthony Davis could return from a mild groin strain for a matchup with fellow All-Star Blake Griffin on Friday night as the Pelicans try to bounce back and deny the visiting Los Angeles Clippers a seventh straight victory.
After missing three games with a toe injury, Davis returned to average 27.5 points and 3.3 steals as New Orleans (24-22) won a season-high four straight to get within 1 1/2 games of eighth-place Phoenix.
The Pelicans couldn’t extend that run after their star became hobbled in Wednesday’s 93-85 home loss to Denver. He left late in the third quarter after a collision under the basket, then returned with 8:44 remaining but couldn’t help New Orleans close a four-point gap before exiting with 46 seconds left.
Coach Monty Williams, though, said he hopes Davis can not only play against the Clippers, but handle his usual workload.
”He’s walking around, doing some stuff – nothing to break a sweat – but he’s walking around normally, so we’ll see how he feels” on Friday, Williams said. ”If he feels up to it, we’re going to play him his normal minutes.”
New Orleans, already missing Jrue Holiday, has dropped 13 of 19 over the past two seasons when Davis doesn’t play.
The Pelicans would certainly like to have their big man available to face a Los Angeles team that’s been playing well at the defensive end during its second-longest winning streak of the season.
The Clippers (32-14) held Utah to 17 fourth-quarter points and 5-of-24 shooting from 3-point range for the game in Wednesday’s 94-89 win to open an eight-game trip. They’ve given up an average of 92.8 points in the last five of a six-game run after surrendering 101.7 in their previous 15.
”Even if we’re struggling, we believe we can get stops," coach Doc Rivers said. "Just keep getting stops.”
Rivers’ club, which had been scoring 114.2 per game over its previous six, will try to get back on track offensively as it looks to match a season high with its fifth straight road victory.
Los Angeles shot 55.1 percent and hit 17 of 32 from beyond the arc in a 120-100 home win over New Orleans on Dec. 6. Griffin led the Clippers with 30 points in that contest, while Davis had 26 but just three rebounds in 33 minutes.
Chris Paul added 18 points and 16 assists. He had 12 assists in the most recent road meeting but set a team record for shooting futility by missing all 12 of his field-goal attempts while finishing with two points in a 98-96 loss March 26.
J.J. Redick, who had 21 points and made five 3-pointers in the December victory, is expected to return after sitting Wednesday due to back spasms.
Although they struggled defensively in the first meeting, the Pelicans have tightened things up by allowing an average of 87.4 points and 41.4 percent shooting over their last five games.
After scoring six points on six shots Monday, Tyreke Evans had 25 while going 11 of 22 from the field against the Nuggets. He had two assists Wednesday after dishing out 32 in his previous three as the Pelicans fell to 3-13 when he has four or fewer.
New Orleans has lost seven of eight in this series.