Wednesday, February 24

Suns and Pelicans focus on defense to meet in New Orleans

The Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans had poor defensive performances as they lost their last game.

For the Suns it was an aberration. To the Pelicans it was too familiar.

Both teams will try to bounce back when they meet in New Orleans on Friday.

Phoenix saw the end of its six-game winning streak in a 128-124 home loss to Brooklyn on Tuesday. The Suns led 116-108 with less than five minutes remaining, but the Nets finished with a 20-8 run when Phoenix was scoreless for the final 2:48.

“We couldn’t stop the whole second half,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said after his team allowed 74 points in the second half. “It wasn’t (just) the last four minutes.”

The Suns, who are fourth in the NBA in scoring defense (108.0), led as many as 24 points in the first half, but James Harden (38 points, 11 assists) led Brooklyn back even with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving out of the game. .

“It’s easy to relax when you’re big,” Suns forward Mikal Bridges said. “That’s what we did and we gave them hope and confidence.”

The Nets didn’t lead the game until a Harden 3-pointer put them up 126-124 with 31 seconds to play. He added two free throws with 11.3 seconds remaining.

The loss was the only loss for Phoenix during a seven-game home run that featured wins against three of the top five teams in the Eastern Conference: Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Boston.

“We can’t just step on the floor and think teams are just going to lie down when we have an advantage,” Williams said. “Our intensity has to be at a high level every time we hit the ground.”

Just as the Suns couldn’t stop Harden with play on the line, the Pelicans couldn’t stop another elite scorer, Portland’s Damian Lillard, when their last game was on the line.

Lillard drove to the basket for a three-point play that cleared the game’s final points with 16.5 seconds remaining in the visiting Blazers’ 126-124 victory Wednesday night.

“Our guys fought hard, but we couldn’t contain it at all,” Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said of Lillard. “Stopping them is 90 percent of stopping it.”

Lillard scored 43 points and tied a career-high 16 assists.

“Our defense is everything,” Van Gundy said. “We are just not doing well enough.”

The Pelicans were playing 24 hours after posting a season-high point total in a 144-113 win at Memphis.

They still had a chance after Lillard’s touchdown, but Zion Williamson, who tied his career record with 36 points, didn’t touch the ball on final possession. Instead, Lonzo Ball missed a triple and Brandon Ingram missed a jump shot.

“It’s just frustrating,” Van Gundy said. “Our guys are playing well on offense. It’s so difficult. There’s so much pressure on your offense that you’re going to talk about every missed opportunity on offense because you have to score virtually every time you can’t stop anyone.”

These teams have divided their first two meetings. The Suns won 111-86 on December 29 at Phoenix, and the Pelicans won 123-101 on February 3 at New Orleans in the last game the Suns played on the road.

–Field level media

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