Clicking Cavs look to hamper Pelicans’ playoff push

NBA Basketball
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The New Orleans Pelicans’ playoff push is off to a good start.

The Pelicans won two of three on a road trip to start their post-All-Star break schedule and moved closer to the eighth playoff position in the Western Conference.

The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t going to the playoffs, but they have been playing well of late, too. They have won four of five as they prepare to visit New Orleans on Friday.

The Pelicans have won five of their past seven games overall. They beat Portland and Golden State before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers 118-109 in the final game of their road trip on Tuesday.

Rookie Zion Williamson had 29 points and six rebounds, his ninth consecutive game with at least 20 points. All-Star forward Brandon Ingram had 34 points. It was the first time Ingram and Williamson, who has played just 13 games, both had at least 25 points in the same game.

“I think it was only a matter of time,” Williamson said. “Eleven, 12, 13 games in, the chemistry was eventually going to be found and I think we’re finding it.”

The Pelicans are in 10th place in the West, three games behind eighth-place Memphis but just 1 1/2 games out of 13th place.

“We understand what’s at stake,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “We have 24 games left and the margin for error is almost none. You have five teams trying to get one spot.”

New Orleans, which has won its past eight home games against the Cavaliers, won 125-111 at Cleveland on Jan. 28. That was the Cavs’ 13th loss in 16 games — but things have changed.

“They’re probably on a high right now because they’re playing very, very well,” New Orleans guard Jrue Holiday said of the Cavaliers. “But we’re also playing very, very well.”

The Cavaliers never trailed in a 108-94 home victory against Philadelphia on Wednesday. They played without starting center Andre Drummond, who is day to day because of a strained left calf. Tristan Thompson started in his place and had 14 points and 13 rebounds.

Cleveland is 3-1 under coach J.B. Bickerstaff since John Beilein resigned during the All-Star break.

“Defense, defense, defense,” said forward Larry Nance Jr., who had 13 points and 15 rebounds. “J.B. has been preaching that — just energy and unselfishness. We’ve really been doing that on both ends, especially the defensive end.”

Collin Sexton scored 28 points to lead six Cavaliers in double figures against the Sixers. The victory was the Cavs’ second in three nights against a team with a winning record. They overcame a 19-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Miami 125-119 in overtime Monday.

“There’s been a concerted effort, to a man, to go out and get after it a little bit harder,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s an energy that’s building and you don’t want to be the one guy that’s not participating in it.

“You see the leadership, you see the young guys, they are pushing one another, they are holding each other accountable, they are having real conversations to fix problems. The environment and culture we are creating is growing and that’s going to be the foundation of it. It’s a bunch of guys who play hard but play well together also.”

–Field Level Media

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