The New Orleans Pelicans and the Oklahoma City Thunder are battling to get into the Western Conference play-in tournament as they meet Saturday night in New Orleans.
The Pelicans entered Friday’s play tied with the Lakers for ninth place, but the Thunder were lurking just a game back, tied with the Blazers just a half-game behind the 11th-place Jazz.
OKC expects to have All-Star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander back after he sat out the team’s most-lopsided loss of the season, 132-101 at Phoenix on Wednesday, for abdominal strain injury maintenance.
New Orleans coach Willie Green said Friday that forward Brandon Ingram, the team’s second-leading scorer, is questionable after leaving the home game against Dallas on Wednesday after sustaining a sprained ankle.
The Pelicans overcame Ingram’s absence to defeat the Mavericks 113-106 as CJ McCollum scored 16 of his game-high 32 points in the fourth quarter.
“CJ shot the cover off the ball, especially down the stretch,” Green said.
It was just the Pelicans’ second victory in eight games. Green said the team’s focus is to “control the controllable” as leading scorer Zion Williamson (hamstring) remains sidelined indefinitely.
“We can follow a game plan, we can execute, we can limit our turnovers, we can rebound and we can play as hard or harder than other teams,” Green said. “That has to be our focus coming down the stretch.”
The Thunder couldn’t contain Devin Booker of the Suns on Wednesday as he scored 30 of his 44 points in the first half and finished 17 of 23 from the field, including 6 of 10 on 3-pointers.
That performance came one night after the Warriors’ Stephen Curry scored 40 points against the Thunder, who won anyway.
Lindy Waters gave OKC a lift by scoring a season-high 23 points off the bench, but the Thunder starters combined for just 31 points, shooting a combined 9 of 39 from the floor.
“It’s slippery,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said of the poor shooting. “You make a couple of those and it stabilizes the game and you’re down by four or six instead of 15.”
An overall disparity in shooting from the floor was a primary factor in the lopsided loss. The Thunder shot 37.5 percent from the floor and 34.9 percent on 3-pointers. The Suns shot 52.1 percent from the floor and 46.5 percent on 3-pointers.
“A lot of (the Suns’ baskets) were over a hand,” Daigneault said. “A lot of them were one of those ones that if you just froze it on the rise of the shot, we’d be OK with the contest. It was just one of those nights.”
New Orleans is trying to sweep the season series with Oklahoma City. The Pelicans beat the Thunder 105-101 on Nov. 28 in New Orleans and twice in Oklahoma City — 128-125 in overtime on Dec. 23 and 103-100 on Feb. 13.
–Field Level Media