Pelicans, Hornets battle for play-in positioning

NBA Basketball

The New Orleans Pelicans will be in more a desperate predicament when they meet the Charlotte Hornets on the road Sunday.

It also will involve a matchup of brothers as New Orleans’ Lonzo Ball and Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball are on the court.

The Pelicans (30-37) are 11th in the Western Conference, needing to move up a spot to qualify for the play-in tournament.

The Hornets (33-34) are in better shape in the Eastern Conference, but still have work to do with an injury-ravaged roster. Another victory would clinch at least a spot in the play-in round.

“It’s going to take all eight, nine guys, whatever we play on a (given) night,” Hornets coach James Borrego said.

The big injury news out of New Orleans is the loss of forward Zion Williamson to a fractured left ring finger. He missed Friday night’s setback at Philadelphia. Williamson is out indefinitely.

“Anytime you lose your best player at a time like this it’s going to be tough,” Lonzo Ball said.

Williamson was one of last season’s top rookies in the NBA and this season he has averaged 27.0 points per game.

LaMelo Ball is one of the leading candidates for rookie-of-the-year honors this season, particularly after returning to action from a broken wrist. He scored 27 points in Friday night’s 122-112 victory against visiting Orlando.

“I felt like we took a little step,” LaMelo Ball said.

That was a big bounce-back effort after he shot 1 of 10 from the field a night earlier against Miami. Still, LaMelo Ball is a combined 0 of 9 on 3-point attempts the past two games.

“My shot was a little off, so I knew I had to get to the rim (Friday),” LaMelo Ball said.

Hornets guard Terry Rozier has been largely steady with 28 points Friday when Charlotte won for just the third time in its last seven games.

“The guy keeps pushing ahead,” Borrego said. “He finds a way to help us win games.”

Contributions from the center position have been erratic for the Hornets. They’re counting on Bismack Biyombo providing intangibles as they make a push toward the playoffs.

“He has been a fantastic leader on this team,” Borrego said. “A veteran that we can really rely on.”

The Pelicans are coming off Friday night’s 109-107 loss at Philadelphia.

“That has been our biggest problem,” Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We haven’t been able to close out these games and win these games. We’re a team that is close. I don’t think anybody would argue that.”

While the agony exists, Van Gundy said the New Orleans players have been resilient and that he expects that to continue.

“It also makes it very frustrating, to be that close that many times,” he said. “I’m sure they’re going to make great effort over the next five games.”

Charlotte is the only remaining team on the Pelicans’ schedule with a losing record, although Memphis was 33-33 heading into a game Saturday night. The Pelicans haven’t lost consecutive games since April 18-20 at the end of a four-game losing streak.

The Hornets won 118-110 on Jan. 8 in New Orleans. Lonzo Ball had only five points and was 1 of 7 from 3-point range in that game.

–Field Level Media

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