The New Orleans Pelicans and the Sacramento Kings are the first two teams outside of the play-in spots in the Western Conference.
The Kings, who will visit New Orleans on Monday night, have lost six in a row and are two games behind the Pelicans.
The Pelicans have won two in a row to get within one game of 10th place, the final play-in spot.
New Orleans outscored short-handed host Cleveland by 11 points in the fourth quarter to claim a 116-109 victory on Sunday night.
“The last seven, eight minutes of the game, we played pretty well,” Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said. “For the rest of the night, especially based on who they had, they played harder than we did. They played more focused than we did. They played better than we did.”
Zion Williamson had 38 points against the Cavaliers after having 37 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists in a 101-94 home win against the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday.
Brandon Ingram added 27 points against Cleveland, but Van Gundy wasn’t happy with the way his top two scorers played defense at the outset. New Orleans trailed 39-29 at the end of the first quarter.
Van Gundy said Williamson and Ingram “didn’t get into the game defensively.”
“They have to set an example,” Van Gundy added, “and not just on offense.”
Williamson said he was “glad” Van Gundy challenged him and Ingram.
“That’s just Stan seeing our potential,” Williamson said, “seeing what level of greatness we can reach. Me and (Ingram), we want him to continue to coach us, continue to tell us things we can do better.”
Sacramento and New Orleans have split two meetings this season, with the road team winning both times.
De’Aaron Fox had 38 points and 12 assists as the Kings overcame a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Pelicans 118-109 on Feb. 1.
On Jan. 17, New Orleans led by as many as 19 points in the first half before Sacramento pulled within one in the final minutes.
But Williamson, who made 13 of his first 15 shots from the field and all five of his free throws, made two free throws to help clinch a 128-123 victory.
The struggling Kings showed improvement in a 128-112 loss at the West-leading Utah Jazz on Saturday. The Kings had lost to both the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons, the worst teams in each conference, in their previous two games.
“Upset that we lost another game and pleased with the approach we had to come out,” Kings coach Luke Walton said. “The way we played for a majority of tonight is what we need to expect and how we need to play every time we’re on the floor, and if we do, we’ll be OK.”
The lead on Saturday changed hands 17 times, and Sacramento had a one-point advantage midway through the fourth quarter before Utah finished on a 24-7 run.
“We’re a team who’s still finding who we are,” Walton said. “When things go well and we’re playing well, we’re a confident group, and when we’ve hit some tough losing patches this year, it’s taken awhile to get back.”
–Field Level Media