postgame: Suns 94, Pelicans 88 (4/9/14)

by Jim Eichenhofer

Pelicans guard Austin Rivers shoots a layup against Suns defender Shavlik Randolph

There aren’t many second-round picks logging big minutes at this stage of the NBA season, but amid a handful of key New Orleans Pelicans injuries, 2012 draftee Darius Miller and ’13 selection Jeff Withey are getting a significant chance to show what they can do as pros. Although it didn’t result in a victory Wednesday, each recent second-rounder turned in one of their most productive games in the NBA.

Withey, the 39th pick of last June’s draft, posted a career-best 17 points against the Suns, repeatedly finishing effectively at the rim. Miller, chosen 46th by New Orleans two years ago, came up just shy of his NBA high in scoring, dropping in 14 points.

“We want to see those guys in real-game situations when we need a bucket or need a stop and see how they respond,” Pelicans Coach Monty Williams said. “They did a good job tonight.”

With Anthony Davis (back spasms) sidelined, joining four other major contributors who are out of action, the Pelicans needed everything they could get from all nine players who got on the hardwood Wednesday. New Orleans (32-46) dropped its sixth straight game, but managed to give Phoenix (47-31) a major scare on a night when the Suns badly needed a victory, holding a slim lead on the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I’m going to get yelled at by my wife because she wanted a blowout so that we didn’t have to worry about anything,” Suns Coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team narrowly prevailed.

Phoenix quickly grabbed a double-digit lead in the first quarter, but New Orleans managed to pull within 47-46 by halftime. The Suns regained momentum in the third period and went up 71-64, before the Pelicans surged in front midway through the fourth. New Orleans held its final lead at 88-87 with 2:18 remaining, but Phoenix scored the final seven points. Eric Bledsoe and Markieff Morris canned consecutive jumpers; Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker combined to sink three free throws in the final 14 seconds to ice the win.

New Orleans began the night with only 10 players available – Alexis Ajinca did not play due to some unfavorable matchups for a 7-foot-2 center – and both Brian Roberts and Tyreke Evans were banged up in-game, though Evans continued to play. Despite the severely undermanned situation, the Pelicans remained in the hunt behind an effective bench. Withey led the reserves with his 17 points, while every other sub contributed double-figure scoring. Anthony Morrow had 14 points; Austin Rivers delivered 10 points, seven rebounds and eight assists; Luke Babbitt notched a season-high 12 points.

“I have nothing to complain about with our group,” Williams said of the hard-nosed defeat. “We held that team (high-scoring Phoenix) to 94 points. We scrapped and played the way we like to play. We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket enough times.”

New Orleans scoring droughts in the first and third quarters proved costly, with the hosts only managing 14 and 18 points in those stanzas, respectively. The Pelicans were missing five of their top seven scorers on the season.

“We just came out a little bit slow tonight,” Withey said. “We played defense, great defense, we just couldn’t put up points. We definitely played pretty well tonight; we just wish we could’ve played a little bit better.”