Payton hopes to return as Pelicans host Suns

The New Orleans Pelicans hope to get starting point guard Elfrid Payton back from a sprained right ankle when they host his former team Saturday night.

The Pelicans are 1-5 without Payton, who left the Phoenix Suns to join them as a free agent during the summer.

New Orleans won its last game, edging visiting Chicago 07-98 on Wednesday night, but before that they went winless during a five-game road trip while Payton was sidelined.

Coach Alvin Gentry said after practice Friday that Payton would be a game-time decision.

Earlier in the week, New Orleans targeted Saturday as the date for Payton’s potential return and he has continued to make progress.

“He’s going to do some other stuff (physically to test whether Payton can play),” Gentry said. “He’s made progress.”

Gentry said the Pelicans have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball and pushing the pace, regardless of whether Payton returns Saturday.

The Pelicans made some progress against the Bulls, though they have averaged 16.7 turnovers in Payton’s absence after averaging 12.6 when he was playing.

New Orleans has not pushed the ball up the floor as effectively since Payton has been sidelined.

“He does a lot of that for us,” Gentry said. “But we still have to play with pace. We’re (fourth) in the league in pace, but to me, we should be first by far. We should be playing at that speed with or without him. Obviously. we miss him, because he pushed the basketball and created some easy baskets for us.”

Even without Payton against Chicago, Gentry was pleased his team’s ball movement in the halfcourt offense.

“I thought we did a good job of getting the basketball to the right people,” Gentry said. “We ended up with 32 assists, which tells me that we’re really passing the ball, but we probably missed eight wide open shots that we should have made. So that’s telling me that we’re playing we’re going back to playing the way we did at the start of the season and that’s to move the basketball and find the open guy.”

The Suns are coming off a disappointing 116-108 overtime loss to Boston at home Thursday night.

Coach Igor Kokoskov inserted forward T.J. Warren into the starting lineup and he responded with a season-high 29 points, including three 3-pointers.

“We knew that TJ’s can give us that mobility when on the perimeter,” Kokoskov told the Suns official website. “We can switch a lot when they’re switching, so it was the right thing for us to do. And that part, I think he did a great job.”

Phoenix led by 18 points after the first quarter and 20 points at halftime before running out of gas.

“Everybody played pretty well,” Warren told the team website. “Energy was good and everybody was scrambling, so the effort was good. We just got to stay consistent with it.”

Marcus Morris knocked down a game-tying three-pointer in the final second of regulation to force overtime.

“The season is still young,” Warren told the Suns website. “We still are feeling out each other. Everybody came to play from the start to finish. It’s better to give our energy at 100 percent, so that’s what we did.”

Guard Devin Booker had 38 points, nine assists, three rebounds and three steals.