The Golden State Warriors have a cushion.
The New Orleans Pelicans don’t.
The Warriors (32-32) are in position to qualify for the Western Conference play-in tournament. The Pelicans (29-35) are three games behind the Warriors.
But these teams will meet in the first game of a back-to-back on Monday night in New Orleans. They’ll also meet May 14 in San Francisco, with the winner of two or more of these games claiming the tie-breaker edge.
“It helps a lot that our destiny is in our hands,” said Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball, who had a career-high 33 points and matched his career best of eight 3-pointers in a 140-136 overtime win at Minnesota on Saturday. “We don’t really have to worry about anybody else. It all depends on us.
“We have three games against (Golden State). It’s not going to be easy at all. We know it’s a tough task. But it’s possible. And that’s all we can ask for — a chance.”
The Pelicans were in danger of losing control of their fate when they fell behind the Timberwolves by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter. But Zion Williamson led a 16-6 closing surge to force overtime, then scored seven of his 27 points in the extra period.
“This team has never quit on anything,” Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Though the comeback enabled New Orleans to maintain control of its play-in fate, the Pelicans have almost no margin for error with eight games remaining.
After the back-to-back games against the Warriors concludes Tuesday, New Orleans embarks on a five-game road trip before returning home for the regular-season finale against the Lakers.
“I love that our fate is not in anybody else’s hands,” Williamson said. “It’s on us to go out there and get the win. You can’t ask for anything better than that, in the situation we’re currently in.”
Golden State is jockeying with the Spurs for the final two play-in spots and finishing off the Pelicans would enable the Warriors to focus on seeding rather than just qualifying.
They trailed by six points at halftime in Houston on Saturday, but Steph Curry scored 15 points during a 24-0 third-quarter run that sent Golden State on its way to an easy 113-87 victory.
“The first half, we just couldn’t get anything going,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Obviously, we thrive on Steph so when he couldn’t hit shots early, we were kind of stuck in the mud. But in the second half, once he made a couple of shots, our energy picked up, our body language was better, and we were able to take control.”
Curry, who shot 2-of-12 in the first half, had 23 of his 30 points in the third quarter as the Warriors outscored Houston 39-12.
“One of the most remarkable things about Steph is that he can be in the midst of what looks like his worst game of the entire season, and then just explode,” Kerr said.
Curry has scored 30-plus points in 15 of his last 17 games.
“There was a little cloud hanging over us (after the first half),” Curry said. “We didn’t play terrible in the first half, but we just didn’t make any shots. We needed some joy, some energy, some good vibes and smiles.”
–Field Level Media