Pelicans close in on 6th seed; Knicks stun Celtics

Agence France-Presse
Pelicans close in on 6th seed; Knicks stun Celtics
Pelicans star Zion Williamson.
Chris Graythen / Getty Images / AFP

LOS ANGELES – The New Orleans Pelicans boosted their hopes of securing an automatic playoff berth on Thursday (Friday Manila time) with a 135-123 road victory over the Sacramento Kings.

In a crucial Western Conference battle in northern California, Zion Williamson and C.J. McCollum both finished with 31 points as the Pelicans completed an impressive wire-to-wire win.

The result means New Orleans will clinch sixth place in the West — and avoid the play-in tournament — if they win their final two games, at Golden State on Friday and against the Los Angeles Lakers at home on Sunday.

The Pelicans were always in control after a devastating first-quarter performance where they raced into a 34-11 lead at one stage after an 18-0 run.

"Throw the first punch to the last punch, and go out on our shield," McCollum said of New Orleans' aggressive first-quarter approach.

"Understand the work, understand the preparation, have fun with it and just enjoy the blessing of being able to play this game at a high level," McCollum added.

Sacramento's defeat left them in eighth place in the West on 45-35 — an identical record to ninth-placed Golden State and the 10th-placed Lakers, meaning the final standings are likely to go down to the wire.

Golden State improved to 45-35 after laboring past the eliminated Portland Trail Blazers, 100-92, in Oregon.

Stephen Curry led the Warriors scoring with 22 points with Jonathan Kuminga adding 19.

Boston booed

Eastern Conference top seeds Boston slumped to their second straight loss with a 118-109 home defeat to the New York Knicks at the TD Garden.

Knicks star Jalen Brunson finished with 39 points to continue his dazzling run of recent form. The Knicks guard has now scored 35 points or more in his last five outings.

Brunson's latest virtuoso effort included six three-pointers in a 15-of-23 shooting performance from the field.

The Knicks are third in the Eastern Conference with a 48-32 record, one game behind second-placed Milwaukee (49-31) with two games of the regular season remaining.

Boston (62-18) were subjected to a smattering of boos from their home fans at the final buzzer, and Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis had no complaints with the crowd's response.

"We got booed at the end for a reason," Porzingis said. "This was not the team that our fans love. But best believe we're going to show up when we need to.

"We've got a week of work now ahead of us, a couple of games to bounce back and time to get going on all cylinders."

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla shrugged off his team's second straight loss, saying that a drop-off in intensity was inevitable once Boston had secured the top seeding in the postseason.

"I actually don't mind the result of the last two games," Mazzulla said. "Going into the postseason with a bunch of wins and feeling good about yourself isn't necessarily any better than going in with a bloody lip."

In other games, the Chicago Bulls romped past the Detroit Pistons 127-105 after 39 points from DeMar DeRozan and 27 points from Nikola Vucevic, ensuring they will now face the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the play-in tournament next week.

In the day's other fixture, between two already eliminated teams, the Utah Jazz defeated the Houston Rockets, 124-121.

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