Pelicans encounter Spurs with play-in edge on the line

NBA Basketball

The San Antonio Spurs are in position to claim one of the final two play-in spots in the Western Conference.

The New Orleans Pelicans can bolster flickering hopes of reaching the play-in tournament by beating the Spurs on Saturday night in New Orleans.

The Spurs (29-29) have a 3 1/2-game lead over the Pelicans (26-33) and the winner of Saturday’s game will earn the head-to-head tie-breaker. This is the third and final meeting between the two teams.

“One of the things you’d like to have is the tiebreaker,” Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said.

New Orleans ended a four-game losing streak, blasting the host Orlando Magic 135-100 on Thursday.

“The reality of the situation is we need every win,” said Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, who scored 23 points in 23 minutes Thursday. “Saturday, we’ve got to go in there and do whatever we can to get the win.”

The Pelicans led by as many as 42 points against the Magic and finished with their largest margin of victory this season.

“It was good to have a game like that after four straight losses, three of which were excruciating,” Van Gundy said. “It was just a perfect storm.”

New Orleans is also within striking distance of 10th-place Golden State. The Warriors are neck and neck with San Antonio for the final two play-in spots. The Pelicans and Warriors face each other three times down the stretch.

“They’re all big games now,” Van Gundy said. “We’re going to have to win a very high percentage of these last games to get into the play-in.”

While the Pelicans were manhandling the Magic, the Spurs had a tougher time with the only team in the Eastern Conference that has a worse record than Orlando — the Detroit Pistons.

San Antonio played without leading scorer DeMar DeRozan (bruised right quadriceps) and Dejounte Murray and Patty Mills, both of whom were resting on the second night of a back-to-back.

The Pistons closed within 84-81 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Spurs responded with a 13-1 run to take command and won 106-91.

“When you do that, it adds to your experience,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Makes you feel a little more confident and you learn an NBA game is a long time, and you just have keep on trucking.”

San Antonio’s victory ended a five-game losing streak at home. The Spurs have won four of their last five on the road.

Derrick White scored 26 points, Lonnie Walker IV had 18 points and Jakob Poeltl added 17 points (double his season’s average) and 11 rebounds to lead the Spurs.

“My focus is on defense and then on offense I try to be productive within my role and try to be aggressive when there is an opportunity,” Poeltl said. “Tonight, we had a couple of guys out, so I think we needed a little bit more on offense. We had some good motion going on the pick and roll.”

The Pelicans defeated the Spurs 98-95 on Dec. 27 in New Orleans and the Spurs beat the Pelicans 117-114 on Feb. 27 in San Antonio behind 32 points from DeRozan.

–Field Level Media

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