Spurs, Pelicans looking to build momentum

NBA Basketball

The San Antonio Spurs are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

They can strengthen their position and weaken New Orleans’ plight when they play the Pelicans on Sunday near Orlando.

San Antonio (30-38) is in 10th place, a half-game ahead of the Pelicans (30-39), who defeated Washington, 118-107 on Friday night.

The Spurs, who are shooting for an NBA-record 23rd consecutive playoff appearance, improved to 3-2 during the restart when they beat a short-handed Utah team 119-111 on Friday. Derrick White scored 24 points and Jakob Poeltl had 19 points and 10 rebounds.

“I don’t think we were as sharp as we could be or as we have been in the past,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told the Expressnews.com. “That’s a typical reaction when the other team doesn’t have all its guys.”

The Jazz played without four starters, including All-Stars Donovan Mitchell (left peroneal strain) and Rudy Gobert (rest). Gobert’s absence inside provided an opportunity that Poeltl took advantage of.

“It was a good opportunity for me because they try to stay locked up on the shooters outside so there was a little bit more room in the paint for me,” Poeltl said. “So I tried to be a little more aggressive with it and take my chances.”

Poeltl had scored a total of just 12 points in San Antonio’s three previous games, the last two of which were losses.

“We wanted to show we could get better results than the last couple games,” Poeltl said. “It didn’t matter if they were coming in with their full starting lineup or their second unit or whoever was out there.”

New Orleans played without Zion Williamson in its victory over the Wizards. He has been playing limited minutes (conditioning) and was given the night off in the second end of a back-to-back after scoring 24 points in a 140-125 loss to Sacramento on Thursday.

The Pelicans got a balanced effort to make up for Williamson’s absence as seven Pelicans scored in double figures against Washington.

Jrue Holiday had 28 points, Brandon Ingram added 17, JJ Redick started in Williamson’s place and had 15, Frank Jackson had 13, Derrick Favors contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds and Nicolo Melli and Josh Hart added 10 points each.

New Orleans, which allowed a 49-point first quarter and a 40-point third quarter against Sacramento, gave up 32 to the Wizards in the first quarter, but surrendered just 75 in the final three quarters.

“We talked about it after the first quarter, that we had to hold them under 30 every quarter after that,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought we did a really good job of being solid defensively.

“We did a much, much better job of keeping the ball out of the paint, and then we did a much better job of challenging shots. Overall, I thought we were much, much better defensively. I thought we were very aggressive and good.”

Washington shot just 34 percent (16-of-47) in the second half, including 21.4 percent (3-of-14) on 3-pointers.

“We had to win this game,” Melli said. “It was just a matter of energy, I think. We know how to play defense together. We just need to go back and play with a lot of energy. That’s what we did in the second half, and we saw the result.”

–Field Level Media

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