Pelicans hope to regain footing vs. banged-up Celtics
NEW ORLEANS -- It wasn't too long ago that the New Orleans Pelicans had won 10 consecutive games to climb to as high as the third seed in the Western Conference playoff race.
But after losing 107-101 to the Houston Rockets Saturday night at the Smoothie King Center, the Pelicans (39-30) have dropped four of their last five games to fall to the No. 7 spot in the West entering a critical match-up against the Boston Celtics (47-22) on Sunday.
The Celtics have been one of the NBA's best teams on the road, sporting a 24-9 record, while the Pelicans have had difficulty defending their home court, going 18-15.
Because a Feb. 7 home game against the Indiana Pacers was postponed due to a leaky roof and rescheduled for March 21, the Pelicans will play three games in three nights and five games over six nights, an unprecedented stretch for a team fighting for its playoff life.
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said his team must block out the brutal schedule. After facing the Celtics on Sunday, New Orleans will have home games against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, the Pacers on Wednesday and Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.
"Don't worry about it," Gentry said. "We play one game at a time. We can't worry about it. We've done a good job of putting ourselves in a position to take care of our own fate. We don't have to depend on anyone else. We just have to do what we need to do, and we'll be fine."
The Pelicans trailed the Rockets by 20 points in the second half but rallied to cut the deficit to four before Chris Paul iced the game with four points in the final 27 seconds.
After the game, Gentry directed his anger toward the referees with a diatribe that is certain to draw a fine from the league. Gentry said All-Star forward Anthony Davis gets little respect from the referees, while in the closing minutes, James Harden drew a 3-point foul from E'Twaun Moore in the left corner on what looked like a non-foul.
"We're playing our (butt) off, and then what happens to us is that AD never get a call," Gentry said. "We talk about them holding him, we talk about them grabbing him on rolls, we talk about them coming under him on post-ups. He never gets a call. Why? Because he doesn't bitch and complain.
"When you got a team playing for playoff spots, you can't guess on the foul. When a guy's got his hand on his chest -- and he's got his hand in -- and you call a 3-point (foul), that's not correct. That's not the way you do it.
"And then when you can get a technical foul for walking away from a guy, then this league has really changed. I walked away from (the referee) so I wouldn't get a technical."
Gentry praised Harden and the Rockets -- "that's a great team down there" - and he also acknowledged he would be fined for his critical comments about the officiating.
"I'll take the (darn) fine that they're going to give me tomorrow," he said. "We haven't said one thing about it the whole year. We talk about it, we send it in, we write it down on the evaluation, but nothing ever happens with him. So, I'm sick and tired of it. So, I'll take whatever they want to give me. That's fine. All I want to do is have equal opportunity to win the game."
The Celtics have won seven of their last 10 games and have played well despite the extended loss of guard Marcus Smart, who is scheduled to miss at least six weeks with a thumb injury, and the absence of Kyrie Irving (sore left knee).
While Smart is not expected to return anytime soon, Irving could return shortly. He missed his second straight game Friday and sat for the third time in the last five games.
In a 92-83 road victory against Orlando on Friday night, Terry Rozier started his fifth game at the point and scored 17 points and had five assists in 34 minutes on a night when the Celtics shot 37.8 percent.
"I'm just not even thinking about it," Rozier said. "I'm going out there and having a lot of fun and just playing the right way. My coaches and my teammates do a great job of just giving me that confidence and letting me build off of it."
Updated March 17, 2018