The tightly compacted NBA Western Conference playoff chase gets a head-to-head duel for seeding Tuesday when the New Orleans Pelicans stare down the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors have distanced themselves from the field out West, but with five weeks remaining in the regular season, just 2 1/2 games separate the next seven teams. That includes the ninth-place Clippers, who are currently on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
Just how bunched up is the field in the Western Conference? At the start of play Monday night, the Pelicans were in fourth place. The Clippers were in ninth, but were just two games behind New Orleans. Violent swings in positioning would appear to be a daily occurrence the rest of the way.
It means the eight-game win streak the Pelicans are bringing into Los Angeles has come at the perfect time. Their most recent victory was a 126-109 thumping of the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.
"Yeah, we are just playing fast," Pelicans forward Anthony Davis told reporters after the victory over Dallas. "When we play fast, we are able to score in transition and get a lot of easy looks. We are playing defense, leading into our offense. So, that is what we have been doing and just play defense and be able to score quick."
Scoring quick, and scoring often, has also been the Clippers' identity of late. Doc Rivers' team has become even more offensive minded ever since All-Star forward Blake Griffin was dealt away to the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 29.
While the Pelicans are scoring 126.8 points per game during their eight-game win streak, the Clippers have poured in 120.4 points over their last eight games, going 6-2 in that stretch. Their only defeats in that run? To the Warriors and Rockets.
The Clippers nearly let one slip away against the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, but the intensity of the bunched up race in the West sparked a rally from eight points behind with just about three minutes remaining.
"I looked at the score, and I was like, 'C'mon man ... we can't lose this game,' " Clippers guard Austin Rivers said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "No disrespect to them, but we need this game more than they do. We were up 15 and had multiple opportunities to put them away. Then we're down eight with (three) minutes left ... a lot of teams let go of the rope there, and we kept going."
Tobias Harris has helped spark the Clippers' offense since coming over from the Pistons, averaging 18.4 points in 34 minutes a game. He also has 6.6 rebounds a contest. Davis continues to be the catalyst for the Pelicans, earning Western Conference Player of the Week honors with an average of 34 points in his last three games and 15.3 rebounds, while shooting 50.7 percent from the field.
The Clippers are expected to be without starting forward Danilo Gallinari (hand) and starting guard Avery Bradley (groin). Guard Tyrone Wallace has been out since Feb. 28 for personal reasons, while guard Jawun Evans (abdomen) has missed the last month of action.
The Pelicans have lost DeMarcus Cousins (Achilles) for the season, while center Emeka Okafor (ankle) is day-to-day.
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