The Portland Trail Blazers will visit the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday night with both teams needing to catch up if they’re going to qualify for the Western Conference play-in round.
The Blazers sit in 13th place, one game behind 11th-place New Orleans and Oklahoma City. Those teams are a half-game back of the Utah Jazz for the final spot in the four-team play-in.
Portland is trying to finish .500 on a six-game trip after letting a victory slip away Friday night. The Blazers led the 76ers by as many as 21 points but lost 120-119 in Philadelphia.
Joel Embiid made a jumper from the foul line with 1.1 seconds left, and Portland couldn’t get off a final shot after falling behind for the first time all night.
“I thought for the most part we played great,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “We just came unraveled a little bit at the end.
“You’re disappointed in the loss and how we ended the game, but I’m happy with how we competed the entire night. We’ve got no reason to hang our heads. We will learn from it and move on to the next one.”
Anfernee Simons led Portland with 34 points. Jerami Grant had 24 and Damian Lillard 22.
“It’s a tough one to let go, a tough one to swallow because we played so well and we needed this game,” Lillard said. “But it’s kind of been the story of our season. We play well in stretches, and we haven’t been able to close games out great. We had our opportunities. We just let this one slip away.”
The short-handed Pelicans lost their most recent game, but they can’t say it slipped away. Oklahoma City led for nearly the entire game, building a 21-point cushion and winning 110-96 on Saturday night in New Orleans.
The Pelicans, playing without leading scorer Zion Williamson since early January, also played without second-leading scorer Brandon Ingram, who has a sprained right ankle. Ingram also has been ruled out of Sunday’s game.
New Orleans had no answer for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, whose 14 first-quarter points helped the Thunder build a 10-point lead after the period. He finished with 35 points and Oklahoma City was more aggressive going to the basket, finishing with an 11-point scoring edge at the foul line.
“We just didn’t bring it tonight, no excuses,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “We didn’t come out and match their energy on our home floor. We came out lax and turned the ball over too much.
“(We need to) take care of the ball. We’ll have more opportunities to score when we do that.”
New Orleans had 22 turnovers and Oklahoma City had 12. The Thunder outscored the Pelicans 23-8 on points off turnovers.
“This is an opportunity for guys to come up and play hard,” Green said. “We want to give ourselves an opportunity to win games, but tonight we did not. It’s a quick turnaround, so it does not get any easier. Our margin for error is small when we have guys out.”
The Pelicans and Blazers split their first two meetings this season, with the visiting team winning by 11 points in both games. The season series will conclude on March 27 in Portland.
–Field Level Media