Thunder, Pelicans get together for pivotal meeting

NEW ORLEANS — If there were a lifeline hanging from the rafters of the Smoothie King Center, both the New Orleans Pelicans (43-33) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (44-33) are hanging on as tightly as they can.

The Pelicans, who ranked as high as the fourth seed in the Western Conference standings just 10 days ago, have lost three consecutive games and now are holding on precariously to the eighth and final playoff spot entering Sunday’s contest against the Thunder.

Oklahoma City is in a little better shape, but after losing three of its last four games, the Thunder badly need a victory to solidify their playoff positioning.

The Pelicans hold a two-game lead for the eighth spot in the West over the Los Angeles Clippers (41-35) and the Denver Nuggets (41-35), but a loss to the Thunder would erase much of the optimism of a 4-2 record New Orleans put together during a marathon eight-day stretch.

“Obviously, we’re looking at the other teams, OKC, Denver, Clippers, everybody that is in front or behind us,” Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday said after a 107-102 road loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night. “At this point, just one game at a time, we got another one coming Sunday, and we have to take care of business.”

After losing six of eight to Oklahoma City, the Pelicans have won both matchups against the Thunder this season. New Orleans defeated OKC 114-107 at home on Nov. 20 and 114-100 on the road on Feb. 2.

If the Pelicans are to accomplish the season sweep, they will need Anthony Davis to lead them. Perhaps showing the effects of a tweaked right ankle, Davis struggled in the loss to the Cavaliers on Friday night, missing his first five shots and finishing with 16 points on 6-of-19 shooting and grabbing eight rebounds.

Davis scored just two points in the final period as the Cavaliers outscored the Pelicans 60-45 in the second half and erased a 13-point deficit. Davis also was seen holding his right foot in obvious pain at the end of the game, but there was no immediate indication if his condition would affect his availability for Sunday’s game.

“He struggled with his shot,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Every time he got the ball, they were going to double and sometimes triple-team him. He took some shots that he’s very capable of making that didn’t go in.?

The Pelicans did get some good news with the return of guard Rajon Rondo from a two-game absence due to a right wrist injury. Rondo had seven points and eight assists against the Cavaliers.

The Thunder are coming off a grueling 126-125 overtime loss to the Nuggets, a game in which OKC wasted their franchise-record 20 3-pointers. The Thunder blew a six-point lead with 2:22 left in regulation and hurt themselves with missed foul shots and layups.

“We just have to finish them,” Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook. “We did a good job of locking in when we needed to get stops. We just need to put the ball in the hole.”

In two games against the Thunder this season, Davis has averaged 39.5 points on 49.1 shooting and 12.5 rebounds. The Pelicans have kept Westbrook relatively in check in the scoring department in both games holding him to 19.0 points, but Westbrook has averaged 13.5 rebounds and 13.0 assists, good enough to average a triple-double against the Pelicans.