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Mar 20, 2024 1:57 pm

Magic, Pelicans aim for strong season finishes

zion williamson shoot

The Orlando Magic have the comfort of knowing they will be playing beyond the end of the regular season.

The New Orleans Pelicans are confident that they will be, too.

Still, there’s work to be done, and both teams will try to strengthen their postseason prospects when they meet Thursday night in Orlando.

The Magic (41-28) clinched at least a play-in spot when they defeated the visiting Charlotte Hornets 112-92 on Tuesday night. The fifth-place Pelicans (42-26) strengthened their spot in the Western Conference playoff pecking order when they toppled the host Brooklyn Nets 104-91 on Tuesday night for their seventh victory in eight games.

Orlando has won 12 of its past 15 games, but their past 10 wins have come against teams with losing records.

“We set out to be playing our best basketball in March and April,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said, “and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

Orlando, which will be playing the third game of an eight-game homestand, and New Orleans, which will be playing the second game of a four-game road trip, are both stepping up in class as they face each other.

The Magic have clinched their second non-losing season since 2011-12. They finished 42-40 in 2018-19.

“I think we continue to focus on one game at a time, continue to build our habits the right way and stick to our standard, knowing we’re there but not being satisfied with that,” Mosley said.

Only three of the Pelicans’ final 14 regular-season games are against teams with losing records.

On Tuesday, New Orleans rolled to a 24-point first-half lead and led by 19 at halftime. The Pelicans never allowed the Nets to get within single digits in the second half.

“This is a game we needed to get to start our road trip, understanding what we have at stake, trying to get to the playoffs, trying to get to 50 wins,” said guard CJ McCollum, who scored 16 points. “We’ve got a lot we want to accomplish. It starts with being able to win games on the road against teams under .500.”

New Orleans’ bench was important to building the first-half lead as it outscored the Brooklyn bench 28-9. Then Zion Williamson took over in the second half, scoring 20 of his 28 points.

“Z was great,” coach Willie Green said. “His force, his ability to dissect the defense, get to the basket, get to the free-throw line, make the extra pass when it was there. He carried us in the second half.”

The Pelicans have matched their win total from last season with 14 games remaining. They have clinched a second consecutive winning season for the first time since the 2007-08 and 2008-09 campaigns.

“We have to keep building,” Williamson said. “We talked about it at the beginning of the season, middle of the season, and now we’re coming toward the end of the season. We just have to keep getting better. If we want to be a contender, we have to keep getting better with those small nuances of the game.”

This is the first meeting this season between the Pelicans and Magic. They will meet again April 3 in New Orleans.

–Field Level Media

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