Pelicans battling for playoff spot as they face Suns
PHOENIX — Gotcha.
Anthony Davis fooled the world with his elaborate brow-shaving April Fool’s joke.
Now it is time to get serious.
Davis and his New Orleans Pelicans are one of seven teams still in the scrum for the final five Western Conference playoff spots with six days left in the regular season, and their off day Thursday turned into a big day when both the Los Angeles Clippers and Minnesota lost.
With the Timberwolves’ loss to Denver, the Pelicans (44-34) jumped over Minnesota and moved within one-half game San Antonio and Oklahoma City, who are tied for fifth place at 45-34.
This could be fun.
Davis was at his best when the Pelicans broke a four-game losing streak with a 123-95 victory over Memphis on Wednesday, scoring 28 points with 12 rebounds, three blocked shots, two assists and two steals.
The Pelicans (44-34) will attempt to continue their run Friday against Phoenix (20-59), which broke a franchise-record 15-game losing streak in a 97-94 home victory over Sacramento on Tuesday.
“I was trying to get back to how I was playing, get the team back,” Davis told reporters after playing at less than one hundred percent in the two previous games because of a twisted ankle suffered in a loss to Portland on March 27.
“I know they feed off my energy, so I just try to come out with a lot of energy on both ends of the floor and try to lead us to a win. It was fun, but we’ve got to do the same thing next time we play.”
Davis is averaging 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game, second in the league in scoring and fifth in rebounds. Davis, 6-foot-10, and Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo are the only players averaging at least 25 points and 10 rebounds a game.
“I thought we did what we needed to,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters. “I thought our ball movement was good again. I thought (Davis) was very aggressive at the start of the game. We shot the ball well as a team. We needed to see some 3s go in.”
The Pelicans face a daunting final three games as they attempt to get into the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. Their three-game road trip continues at Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers before the home finale against San Antonio on Apr. 11.
The Nuggets moved into a tie with Minnesota (both are 44-35) with their 100-96 victory over the Timberwolves Thursday, and both teams are one-half game behind New Orleans. The Clippers fell to (42-37) with a loss to Utah on Thursday and are on the brink of elimination.
The Suns have the worst record in the league and will finish with their fewest losses since the 1968-69 expansion season team (16-66) unless they win their final three games. They are 2-27 since Jan. 31. They won once in February and were 0-14 in March, the first winless full month in franchise history.
Suns forward Josh Jackson had 28 points, six rebounds, two steals, two assists and a block against Sacramento. He has scored at least 15 points in 11 consecutive games, tying Utah guard Donovan Mitchell for the longest streak by a rookie this season. Jackson is averaging 21.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in that stretch.
Jackson has become the Suns’ No. 1 scoring option in the continued absence of Devin Booker, TJ Warren and Elfrid Payton. Booker has missed the last nine games with a sprained right hand and Warren has missed the last eight with a hip injury. Neither is expected to play against New Orleans.
“You kind of welcome the fact that he’s ready to take it,” Suns interim coach Jay Triano said of Jackson’s willingness. “Some guys will panic with two or three seconds to go, worry about (his shooting) percentage.
“But Josh is just thinking, ‘I got to do whatever’s right, I got to put it up, I got to get it on the rim, maybe (Alex) Len can knock it out, maybe Marquese (Chriss) can get a rebound.’ He’s not afraid of the moment, that’s for sure.
“He’s electric in the open court. He’s electric if you get him a little bit of an angle and a lane to the basket. Making shots, and from the perimeter, will be an addition to what he can do. And when he does that it’s going to be great.”