Pelicans cut close in loss to Trail Blazers
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Given an opportunity to clinch a postseason berth, the Trail Blazers made the most if it.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 25 points and 18 rebounds and Portland earned a playoff spot for the first time in three seasons with a 100-94 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday night.
Wesley Matthews added 21 points, Damian Lillard 20 and Nicolas Batum had 16 points and 12 rebounds for Portland (50-28). The Blazers are in fifth place in the Western Conference with four games remaining.
"Fifty wins is always a big honor in this league," Aldridge said. "Especially being in the West with so many good teams. It’s definitely not something to take for granted. Guys are happy about it and we’re definitely happy to be locked into the playoffs."
Memphis’ loss to San Antonio earlier in the evening cleared the way for Portland to clinch. It appeared the Trail Blazers might fumble the chance when New Orleans took a 10-point second quarter lead. But the Blazers blew past the Pelicans with a 25-6 third quarter run and never trailed again.
Reserve Anthony Morrow scored 17 for New Orleans and Anthony Davis had 15 points on 6-of-18 shooting.
New Orleans got within 97-94 with 35.9 seconds left when Morrow nailed a jumper, but Lillard scored on a driving layup and then made one of two free throws.
"They made runs – that’s what they do," said Morrow, who is averaging 19.4 points in his last seven games. "We know when this team is at home they are going to make runs, they are going to hit shots."
Portland had won four in a row before running out of gas Friday and losing 109-93 in Phoenix. Clinching a playoff spot at home was an important step for a team that won just 33 games last season, but the Blazers weren’t whooping it up in the locker room after the game.
"We were happy for about five minutes," Batum said. "But we have four more games and then the playoffs start."
The Pelicans, last in the Southwest Division and out of the playoff race, have lost five straight games.
Davis started the game despite back spasms that kept him out for long stretches of the past two games. He limited Aldridge to 6-of-16 shooting in the first half.
"He’s just trying to do everything he can to help his team and tonight was no different," coach Monty Williams said. "That’s why we love him."
Davis had 11 points in the first quarter, but the Pelicans went on a run with their All-Star on the bench in the second, going up 39-29 as reserve big men Al-Farouq Aminu and Alexis Ajinca combined for 10 points in a 14-4 run. Portland trailed 55-48 at the half.
The Blazers picked up the pace in the third, as Aldridge regained his shot and Lillard, Matthews and Batum each scored in transition. Portland led 77-67 just before the end of the third.
Several players scoffed at suggestions that the Blazers rest some starters with the playoffs in hand, and coach Terry Stotts indicated there were no plans to change focus.
"We’re not prepping for the playoffs," he said. "We want to keep going in the right direction."
NOTES: Portland’s last playoff appearance was in 2010-11, when the Blazers lost a first-round matchup to the Dallas Mavericks in six games. … New Orleans G Eric Gordon missed his ninth straight game with knee tendinitis, and is not with the team after traveling to Los Angeles for a medical examination. . The Pelicans are 12-27 on the road this season. Their last win in Portland was in 2010.