The San Antonio Spurs and the New Orleans Pelicans are engaged in a tight battle to qualify for the play-in tournament in the Western Conference as they meet Saturday in New Orleans.
The Pelicans (31-42) entered Friday tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for ninth place, two games ahead of the 11th-place Spurs (29-44). The teams that finish in the 7-10 spots in each conference qualify for the play-in.
This clash comes just eight days after the Pelicans led by as many as 40 points in San Antonio while routing the Spurs 124-91. The Spurs still lead the season series 2-1.
“With the way we beat them in San Antonio, I’m sure they have watched the film and made adjustments,” New Orleans coach Willie Green said after practice Friday. “We definitely expect San Antonio to come in locked in for this game.
“They have something to play for, but so do we. We’ve got to do it again and at an even higher level. That’s going to be the key to the game.”
The Pelicans are coming off a 126-109 home victory against Chicago on Thursday. They clamped down on the defensive end after allowing 39 first-quarter points and eventually pulled away by outscoring the Bulls 40-24 in the fourth quarter.
“Thirty-nine points is too many to give up with the way we want to play defense,” Green said. “Our defense was stifling (after the first quarter).”
Chicago made six of nine 3-pointers in the first quarter, but after that just eight of 25, including just four of 16 in the second half.
The Spurs have rebounded well since the March 18 loss to the Pelicans. They began their current four-game road trip with victories at Golden State (110-108 on Sunday) and Portland (133-96 on Wednesday).
Both opponents were shorthanded as the Warriors played without Steph Curry and the Trail Blazers played without Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic.
“Wins are tough in the NBA,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “You take them any way you can get them.”
Popovich, who was ejected from the loss to the Pelicans after getting two technical fouls early in the second quarter, acknowledged that the game against Portland on Wednesday night “wasn’t a fair fight,” but added, “we still played good basketball.”
After the Spurs had their lowest-scoring quarter of the season in falling behind New Orleans 35-10 in the first period, against Portland posted their highest-scoring first half of the season, taking an 81-53 lead against the Blazers.
The Spurs made 19 3-pointers, tying their season high, which included a club-record 13 in the first half.
“We didn’t want to let them linger around so we took that and ran with it,” said Devin Vassell, who scored 16 points for San Antonio. “If you let a team like that start coming back and feeling good, it’s a dogfight.”
Lonnie Walker IV, averaging 12.2 points off the bench, hasn’t played since sustaining back spasms against the Pelicans last week.
Brandon Ingram, averaging 22.8 points for New Orleans, has missed nine consecutive games because of a strained hamstring, though he practiced on a limited basis Friday.