Pelicans playoff hopes fading after loss in Memphis
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Dillon Brooks scored 23 points, Jonas Valanciunas had 20 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks, and the Memphis Grizzlies secured a spot in the postseason play-in tournament by beating the New Orleans Pelicans 115-110 on Monday night.
Kyle Anderson had 14 points and four blocks, while Ja Morant had 12 points and 12 assists. Memphis assured itself of finishing no worse than 10th in the Western Conference and is jostling with Golden State for the eighth spot. The seventh- and eighth-place teams only have to win one game to reach the main playoff bracket, while the ninth and 10th teams must win two.
“We want to get over the hump. The job’s not done,” Brooks said. “We want to seed ourselves well. Play hard. It’s good that we clinched.”
Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the short-handed Pelicans with 18 points, while Willy Hernangomez had 15 points and eight rebounds. James Johnson and Jaxson Hayes scored 13 points each.
“Look, we got some chances,” Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We just weren’t able to quite get it done.”
The Pelicans were without leading scorers Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. Josh Hart, who averages 9.2 points and eight rebounds, and center Steven Adams also sat.
Add to that playing the second night of a back-to-back after a come-from-behind win against Charlotte, and things looked dire for the Pelicans. Williamson and Ingram alone average nearly 51 points per game.
But New Orleans proved a tough out for Memphis.
“I believe our team is built on the right things. Everyone is mentally pushing for the right things. I think we want to win,” Alexander-Walker said. “Guys want to play hard. Guys care. I think it’s showing even in a tough situation.
“It shows who we are as people and how we actually appreciate the game.”
The Pelicans erased a halftime deficit by shooting 50% in the first six minutes of the third quarter. Memphis missed all but one of its first 10 shots in the frame.
“We definitely had our struggles,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “They pushed it on us, especially in that third quarter. I thought we had a ton of great looks. Tough time to kind of go ice cold.”
Morant, who struggled from the floor, scored eight straight points, including a pair of 3-pointers to bring Memphis within 88-86 entering the fourth.
Memphis eventually built its lead to nine in the closing minutes and took its next step to the postseason.
“We’ve never set markers in terms of defined goals outside of just trying to find ways to get better, and playing these meaningful basketball games,” Jenkins said. “Hopefully, that leads to clinching a spot in the play-in tournament as we talk about making a push for the playoffs this season.”
Pelicans: Adams is dealing with what amounts to turf toe, Williamson has a fractured left ring finger, Ingram is suffering from a left ankle sprain and Hart is recovering from left thumb surgery. ... Seven of New Orleans’ previous 10 games were decided by five points are less, including the previous two by two points.
Grizzlies: G Grayson Allen sat out his third game with left abdominal soreness. ... Had lost five straight to the Pelicans. ... Had 10 blocks in the first half, their most in a half since 10 against Utah in 2010. Ended the night with 19 blocks, tying the franchise record. ... Memphis played its first game of a back-to-back, the team’s 10th of the season. After a day off comes another back-to-back against the Sacramento Kings.
PRAYERS FOR OFFICIAL
The NBA announced earlier Monday that official Tony Brown will miss the rest of the season after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Jenkins extended good wishes to Brown before the game. “I just want him to know from all of us that our heart and our wishes are with him,” Jenkins said, later adding: “Our prayers and thoughts are with you, Tony. Wishing you all the best, man.”
Pelicans: At Dallas on Wednesday.
Grizzlies: Host Dallas on Tuesday.
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