The New Orleans Pelicans were hoping to end a five-game losing streak without All-Star power forward Anthony Davis, who was held out of the game because of a lingering back ailment.
The Phoenix Suns are hoping to make the playoffs after being written off as one of the worst teams in the league before the season began.
Needing the win to stay ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies, the Suns outlasted the Pelicans down the stretch and took a 94-88 victory on Wednesday night at Smoothie King Center.
“We didn’t play that great, but we just gutted it out,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We had stretches where we played well, but a win is a win. We needed this one, and we need the next one.”
Said Pelicans coach Monty Williams: “We tried to make plays, and we had a costly turnover down the stretch. We could never get (the lead) to three to five to give ourselves a buffer.”
Williams said he kept Davis out because his back has been slow to heal. Davis has been dealing with back spasms since the team’s road game vs. Utah on April 2.
“It wasn’t improving at the rate we felt he should, so sometimes you have to be their brains for them,” Williams said. “A week for back spasms is a different deal.”
Asked if Davis would be shut down for the rest of the season or if a decision would be made on a game-to-game basis, Williams said, “We don’t know, yet.” However, he added: “As bad as I want to win, I don’t ever want to put anybody in jeopardy.”
With the loss, the Pelicans (32-46) were swept in the four games against the Suns this season. Phoenix, which is in the Western Conference’s eighth playoff spot, won its third in a row to hold off the Grizzlies, who beat Miami in Memphis on Wednesday.
The Suns play at tough San Antonio on Friday and at Dallas on Saturday before what may be a do-or-die game at home against the Grizzlies on Monday.
The Pelicans led 87-85 with 2:36 remaining and had the ball on the fast break. However, guard Austin Rivers’ pass intended for Luke Babbitt was stolen by Suns guard Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe then found backcourt mate Goran Dragic on the fast break for a tying 13-foot jump shot. The Pelicans scored one point the rest of the way after that play.
Dragic scored 20 points, one behind Gerald Green’s 21.
“I just didn’t get the ball to Luke quickly enough,” Rivers said. “It was just a bad time to have a turnover.”
Bledsoe said it was as much a face-saving play as a game-saving one.
“I had turned the ball over,” Bledsoe said. “Coach has been talking to me all season about getting back.
“ That’s the one play where I got back and ended up getting the steal. I just ran to the open man. (Rivers) just so happened to throw the ball there, and I stole it.”
Bledsoe, who scored 16 points, then made another key play.
With 1:55 left, and Rivers guarding him, he appeared to shoulder Rivers, knocking him back. Bledsoe sank a 16-foot jump shot that gave Phoenix an 89-88 lead.
Rivers then drove for a score that waived off because the shot clock had expired, and Markieff Morris sank an 18-foot jump shot for a three-point lead at 1:12.
The Suns sealed the win with one free throw by Green and two by P.J. Tucker in the last 16 seconds.
The Pelicans led 85-83 after a 3-pointer by Tyreke Evans with 3:48 left, but Dragic tied with a jumper from the corner. New Orleans had trailed 74-64 one minute into the quarter after a 3-pointer by Green.
The Pelicans fought back in the third quarter, too. Phoenix led 67-57 with two minutes left in the third after a 3-pointer by Bledsoe. However, the Pelicans went on a 7-1 burst, the big basket a 3-pointer by Babbitt off a drive and dish by Darius Miller with 42.9 seconds left.
However, after Rivers missed two free throws, Green sank a 3 with 2.9 seconds left, giving Phoenix a 71-64 bulge at the end of three.
The Pelicans trailed 23-14 after the first quarter, in which they shot just 5-of-24 (20.8 percent). However, they shook off the doldrums that put them in that hole in the first quarter and trailed by just 47-46 at halftime.
“We just came out a little slow tonight,” said center Jeff Withey, who led the Pelicans with a career-high 17 points, pacing 53 points by the bench. “We played great defense, we just didn’t put up points.”