Spurs, Pelicans jockeying for playoff positioning
While both teams have clinched Western Conference playoff spots, Wednesday night’s regular-season finale at the Smoothie King Center is the finish line in a marathon race for playoff seeding.
Unless Memphis pulls off a monster upset and defeats the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road Wednesday, the Pelicans, currently the fifth seed, would finish anywhere from the fourth, fifth or sixth seed with a victory over the Spurs. The Pelicans would drop to the eighth seed with a loss, setting up a first-round matchup with the No. 1 Houston Rockets.
The Spurs also could fall anywhere from the fourth to the eighth seed, given a myriad of possibilities.
The only solace for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is that the Spurs, playing most of the season without All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard, have made the playoffs for the 21st consecutive season. That streak is 11 years longer than Popovich’s nearest competitor, Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat.
“Oh, it’s wonderful,” Popovich said, using his characteristic deadpan delivery Monday night after the Spurs clinched their playoff spot with a 98-85 victory over Sacramento.
“They deserve a lot of credit, done a great job,” Popovich said of his players. “I’m real proud of them.”
The Pelicans have won four consecutive games to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Coach Alvin Gentry said there are so many possible playoff matchups that he wants his team to focus on what it can control.
“We’re just going to do the best we can do (to beat the Spurs), and whoever we play, we play,” Gentry said. ‘We just want to continue to play good basketball.”
The Pelicans’ four-game winning streak could not have been timelier, and forward Anthony Davis has been the catalyst during the streak. Davis, who has made the playoffs only once in his five NBA seasons, said he was proud the Pelicans did not collapse after the season-ending Achilles injury to center DeMarcus Cousins on Jan. 26.
“A lot of people counted us out when he went down, but we just kept fighting, changed the way we play a little bit,” Davis said. “We believed in ourselves — all the guys in this locker room. We just wanted to make sure no matter what happens with anybody else — that we were in. This whole road trip we came out aggressive.”
The Pelicans have won two of three against San Antonio this season, winning 107-90 at home on Nov. 22 and 121-116 in San Antonio on Feb. 28 and losing 98-93 in San Antonio on March 15. Davis had averaged 25.3 points on .509 shooting and 13.3 rebounds in the three games, while the Spurs have been led by Dejounte Murray with 16.7 points, including .667 from 3-point range and 8.0 rebounds.
The Spurs said Leonard would not be available to play against the Pelicans as he returns from a season-long quad injury.
Pelicans point guard Rajon Rondo, who delivered an off-the-backboard assist to Davis for a thunderous, one-handed dunk against the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night, said he likes what he sees in New Orleans’ recent play.
“I think if we come in with the right focus, the right mindset — obviously, you’ve got to make some shots — we can beat anyone,” Rondo said. “We know that as a team.”
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