The Portland Trail Blazers (29-36) are in a final sprint for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, having won five of their last six games, with their only loss in that span the result of an official's blown non-call in the final seconds.
The New Orleans Pelicans (26-40), who can't seem to get All-Stars DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis playing well together at the same time, are in 12th place in the West and, in all probability, will treat their remaining 16 games of the season as early training camp for next year.
When the Pelicans host the Trail Blazers Tuesday night at the Smoothie King Center, they will be trying yet again to get the maximum benefit from a Twin Towers offense that thus far has been stuck in the mud.
In the eight games Cousins and Davis have played together since New Orleans made the blockbuster trade with Sacramento, the Pelicans have won just twice, mostly because New Orleans lacks the perimeter shooting necessary to force defenses to bother leaving the paint.
To make matters even more interesting, New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry kept Cousins on the bench in the fourth quarter and overtime on Saturday night as the Pelicans rallied behind Davis' 46 points and 21 rebounds to defeat Charlotte 125-122 on the road Saturday night.
Gentry said Monday after practice that keeping Cousins on the bench should not be interpreted as a knock on the All-Star center, even though he had committed six turnovers and was 3 of 11 from the field.
"I think everybody wants to play in the fourth quarter," Gentry said. "He's no different than anyone else. It's just the way the game went. Obviously, A.D. was going good, and (the Hornets) were playing a smaller lineup. It wasn't anything about he wasn't playing well. They had a tough matchup with A.D., we were creating space and guys were making a few shots."
In the last five games, Cousins has shot just 37.5 percent (33 of 88) and averaged 19.2 points while committing 5.0 turnovers and averaging 4.6 fouls, many of them early in games. In his first 55 games with Sacramento, Cousins averaged 27.8 points per game on 45.2 percent shooting, with 3.8 turnovers and 3.7 fouls.
Cousins said all the right things after practice Monday when asked if he was frustrated by Gentry's decision to sit him for the final 17 minutes of a close game.
"Not at all," Cousins said. "The team was in good rhythm. They were playing a good stretch of basketball, so I wasn't made at all. We pulled out a good win. I'm not mad at all."
Cousins said it was the first time since his rookie season that he did not play in the fourth quarter, but he stressed that he was not pressing the panic button over the clunky nature of the offense when both he and Davis are on the court at the same time.
"We've still got some things we've got to figure out," Cousins said. That's obvious, but I think it's coming along fine. We're excited about growing as teammates. We want to get better, we want to get it down pat. I think we're on the right path, but we still got a lot of learning to do."
The Blazers found out Sunday that their one-point loss to Washington last Saturday never should have happened. The NBA admitted the officials failed to see Markieff Morris had stepped out of bounds before making a baseline jumper with 0.4 seconds left. The play was not reviewable.
Damian Lillard torched Phoenix for 39 points in a 110-101 bounceback victory on Sunday.
"We're fighting," Lillard said. "I think that's what it comes down to. It's not always a perfect game. It's not always a pretty game. But down the stretch, we have a chance in every game. I just like that we're competing, we're playing with a lot of pride, we're playing like we care about where our season goes."
Portland is chasing Denver, currently the No. 8 seed in the West. Including Tuesday night, they have four more road games on a five-game road swing that could determine their fate.
New Orleans have split their first two games this season. Lillard had 27 points and 11 assists in a 119-104 win Nov. 25 in Portland. Davis has averaged 34.5 points and 11.0 rebounds against Portland this year.
In his three games playing against Portland as a Sacramento King, Cousins has average 38.7 points and 10.0 rebounds.
Copyright © 2017 TTWN Media Networks Inc. Photo: Getty Images