The New Orleans Pelicans began its recent successful road trip by beating the Los Angeles Clippers.
It will try to get its homestand off to a winning start when it meets the Clippers in a rematch on Saturday night.
The Pelicans went 3-1 on the trip and have won six of their past seven games, including a 107-88 victory at Denver on Thursday. They will play four straight games at home before finishing the regular season at Minnesota on April 9.
“We all understand we don’t want to be at home watching the playoffs,” New Orleans forward Trey Murphy III said. “That would be a travesty. We’re treating every game like it’s a must-win game.”
New Orleans (39-38) was sitting outside the top 10 spots in the Western Conference before starting its hot streak. The Pelicans enter Saturday tied for seventh with the Los Angeles Lakers (39-38), just 1 1/2 games behind the Clippers (41-37) and the Golden State Warriors (41-37), who are tied for fifth.
The Pelicans have won the season series against the Clippers by taking the first two meetings, including the 131-110 triumph in Los Angeles on March 25.
“(The players) understand what this means,” New Orleans coach Willie Green said. “We have an opportunity to play in the postseason. Every game is meaningful for us.”
New Orleans took advantage of Nikola Jokic’s absence to dominate the West-leading Nuggets and hold them to their season low in points.
Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram had a game-high 31 points as part of his second career triple-double. His first came seven days earlier in a victory against Charlotte in the Pelicans’ most recent home game.
“He’s playing at a high level,” Green said. “Everyone’s getting the opportunity to see him display his game and we’re putting the ball in his hands a lot more, allowing him to be a playmaker.”
The Clippers are coming off a split of two games in Memphis. They defeated the Grizzlies 141-132 on Wednesday, but Los Angeles’ offense fell apart in a 108-94 defeat on Friday.
Kawhi Leonard didn’t play on Wednesday as the Clippers produced a season-high point total in a non-overtime game, led by Russell Westbrook’s 36 points. Leonard returned and scored 12 points in 18 minutes on Friday, but Westbrook produced only four points and 11 assists as the Clippers squandered a 20-point, first-half lead.
“I think having Kawhi back took away a little bit of (Westbrook’s) aggression, trying to get Kawhi going,” Los Angeles coach Tyronn Lue said.
The Clippers had a 34-14 lead late in the first quarter, but the Grizzlies turned the game around with a 28-4 surge that continued into the middle of the second quarter.
“We knew they were going to make a run, we just didn’t know it was going to be that fast,” Lue said. “We put ourselves in good position (to win). We just didn’t do a good job finishing the game, taking care of the basketball, taking good shots and getting defensive stops.”
Norman Powell led Los Angeles with 16 points in the Friday defeat. Ivica Zubac had 15 points and 15 rebounds, and Eric Gordon scored 13.
“We didn’t score the ball like we’re capable of doing like we did in the first quarter and that hurt us,” Lue said. “We didn’t do a good job of scoring the basketball. Big game for us (Saturday), and we’ve got to be ready to go.”
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