The New Orleans Pelicans have been slipping in the Western Conference pecking order as they try to snag a spot in the play-in tournament.
But they’ve bolstered their chances with consecutive victories against Houston and San Antonio. They’ll try to take advantage of another team out of postseason contention when they host the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday night.
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “We have to continue to build our execution to be at a certain level, to be at a certain standard. Our defense, our communication on the defensive end and rebounding the ball — these are all things that build your confidence going into the next game no matter who touches the floor.”
One player who won’t touch the floor is All-Star forward Zion Williamson, who has been sidelined since straining a hamstring Jan. 2. The Pelicans announced Wednesday that Williamson, who recently suffered a setback, has been cleared to return to on-court activities and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.
“I can’t confirm if he’ll be back,” Green said after practice Wednesday. “We’re going to take it kind of slow.”
New Orleans (35-37) took advantage of a short-handed Spurs team in a 119-84 victory Tuesday night that improved their home record to 23-13. The Pelicans hope to improve that record against Charlotte before embarking on a four-game road trip against Western Conference opponents.
The victory against the Spurs came on the heels of a 117-107 win at Houston on Sunday after a stretch in which New Orleans lost nine of 12.
“We have been moving the ball and trusting each other,” said forward Trey Murphy III, who scored 17 points against San Antonio. “We are trying to generate open shots and play with a good pace. Whenever we play with pace, we are able to get a lot of shots that we want.”
The Pelicans shot 55.6 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent on 3-pointers against the Spurs.
The Hornets (23-50) have been eliminated from playoff contention, but they fought back from a 21-point first-half deficit to defeat visiting Indiana 115-109 on Monday night.
Kelly Oubre Jr., who led the Hornets with 28 points, said the team is focused on competing every night even as outsiders ponder their draft prospects.
“It’s kind of backward when we (hear) people are commenting on how bad we played and when we lose, they give up on us,” Oubre said. “But then when we win, they say, ‘You’re not supposed to win.’
“So it puts us in an uncomfortable position. But we are going to continue to play hard every night. … We’re in the mind frame of setting up something for next year.”
Charlotte outscored Indiana 19-4 during the final six minutes to end a four-game losing streak.
Terry Rozier scored 23 points and Gordon Hayward added 22 for the Hornets, who fell behind 40-22 after the first quarter.
“They were really good early, and we were really bad,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “But you could tell in the huddle, guys were talking, ‘stay with it,’ talking about the corrections they had to make. We played better and better, so they were rewarded tonight, which is great.”
Charlotte’s bench was outscored 45-18, but the Hornets scored 35 points off 22 Indiana turnovers.
–Field Level Media