Pelicans shootaround update presented by HUB International: New Orleans tries to add to win streak in L.A., in thick of tight West race

by Jim Eichenhofer

LOS ANGELES – Anthony Davis was watching Monday’s Orlando-Utah game on NBA League Pass when the broadcasters began discussing how, despite Utah going 14-2 in its last 16 games (now 15-2 in the last 17), the Jazz are only in 10th place. The Jazz’s predicament is symbolic of a Western Conference playoff skirmish that features numerous red-hot teams, including New Orleans (eight-game winning streak) and Portland (seven-game win streak). Among the top 10 teams in the conference, seven have gone at least 7-3 over the last 10 games, tightening the gap between third and 10th place considerably.

Only four games separate third-place Portland (38-26) from Utah (34-30) in 10th, while No. 4 New Orleans (36-26) is just two games ahead of the ninth-place Clippers (34-28), tonight’s host in a TNT national broadcast.

“If you lose a game, you’re (potentially dropping to) seventh place from third,” Davis said after Tuesday’s shootaround at Staples Center. “I was watching the Utah game yesterday and they were saying that they were 14-2 in their last 16 games, and they haven’t moved (in the standings), because everyone is winning. So you win 14 out of 16 games, and you’re still in 10th place. That’s the beast of the West. We just want to make sure we keep winning, to make sure ultimately we stay where we are.”

New Orleans’ current position of fourth is the epitome of tenuous, because a win combined with a Portland loss Tuesday would move the Pelicans into third in the West. On the flip side, a Pelicans loss against the Clippers could drop them as far down as seventh, partly contingent upon Oklahoma City’s Tuesday home game vs. Houston.

Other notes from shootaround in California:

After being asked if anything changes for a team that is trying to keep a lengthy winning streak going, Davis responded: “Of course. Any time anybody has a streak, even if it’s four games or the Rockets’ 14 games, (the opponent) always wants to be the team to end the streak. Your focus has to be at an ultimate high every game. But we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now, just having fun and enjoying the process.” …

Although roughly one-fourth of the regular season and 20 games apiece remain for the Pelicans and Clippers, Tuesday’s game carries ramifications that could become factors in the playoff race. The season series is tied at one game apiece, with two meetings left (New Orleans visits the Clippers again in Game 81 on April 9, also slated for national TV on ESPN). Barring a drastic change over the final month-plus of the season, New Orleans likely needs to win both games on the Clippers’ home floor to own a potential tiebreaking advantage, because if the teams finish with the same overall records, Los Angeles is already nearly assured of having a better conference record (the second tiebreaking step if the teams go 2-2 head-to-head). …

In his final game with the Clippers on Jan. 28, Blake Griffin sank a back-breaking three-pointer in the final minute to beat New Orleans in the Smoothie King Center. Since then, Los Angeles has undergone a significant makeover, particularly with the trade additions from Detroit of Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley. Although the Clippers provide a new look from the January matchup, Davis stressed that the Pelicans are focusing on themselves as they prepared for Tuesday’s game.

“It’s a different team. They’re playing well,” Davis said of a Clippers club that is 9-3 since Harris debuted Feb. 3. “No Blake, added Tobias. Austin (Rivers is) back (from injury). It’s a different team, but that doesn’t change our goal.

“Every game, we try to make it about us, not about the other team. If we move the basketball the way we’re supposed to, and defend the way we’re supposed to, we’ll be fine. The stuff that we do is the same since the last time we played them.”