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Mar 31, 2024 4:26 pm

Challenging closing slates figure big for both Suns and Pelicans

pelicans

The Phoenix Suns and the New Orleans Pelicans are both down to their final eight games of the regular season.

They’ll face each other twice in important games down the stretch, beginning with a meeting on Monday night in New Orleans, with the possibility of going up or down in the Western Conference postseason seedings.

The fifth-place Pelicans (45-29) have a two-game lead over the seventh-place Suns (43-31) with Dallas squeezed in between.

New Orleans is beginning the second half of a six-game homestand that has featured three games against elite teams — a defeat to Oklahoma City, a victory against Milwaukee and a 104-92 loss to Boston on Saturday.

“These are playoff-like games that we relish,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “Oklahoma, Milwaukee, Boston: all tough teams and they all came down to execution. Pretty close games. (Saturday’s game) got away from us a little bit, but we battled back. And this is what you want: you want an opportunity to play against the best teams and see where you stack up as we continue to prepare.”

New Orleans led the NBA-leading Celtics 37-28 at the end of the first quarter but scored just 20 points in the second quarter, 11 in the third and trailed by as many as 22 points in the fourth.

“They upped their intensity and we did not match it,” said Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, who scored 25 points in a career-high 40 minutes. “When we started to match it, the game was out of hand at that point.”

Phoenix has been wildly inconsistent during its current road trip. The Suns split the first two contests of the trip in San Antonio, rolling to a 25-point win in the first game and losing the second game even though Spurs star rookie Victor Wembanyama didn’t play.

They beat the defending champion Nuggets 104-97 on Wednesday before suffering their second-most lopsided defeat of the season in Oklahoma City, 128-103 on Friday even though Thunder All-Star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was sidelined.

Suns coach Frank Vogel called the performance “embarrassing” after his team trailed OKC by as many as 29 points.

“We’ve all got to own it and we’ve all got to be better and we’ve all got to handle success better,” Vogel said. “It’s unacceptable to get blown out. These games are so important.”

The Suns have one of the most difficult remaining schedules remaining as each game is against a team that is at least 10 games over .500. The Pelicans are past the most challenging part of their homestand, though overall they still have six games against teams with winning records.

“We’ve had different lineups with guys getting injured, coming in and out of the lineup,” Suns forward Kevin Durant said. “For the most part, we understand each other. We see each other’s tendencies. That’s what you want from a group is to start to understand each other more. We’re doing that.

“We’ve got eight more games left. Hopefully, we get an opportunity to play in the postseason.”

These teams have met just once this season as the Suns prevailed 123-109 on Jan. 19 in New Orleans. The teams meet again April 7 in Phoenix.

–Field Level Media

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