NBA stars Zion Williamson and Stephen Curry will go a full regular season without facing off head-to-head when the New Orleans Pelicans and Golden State Warriors complete their four-game season series on Tuesday in San Francisco.
The Pelicans (38-37) were without Williamson, sidelined due to a strained right hamstring for the 38th consecutive game, when they eased past the host Portland Trail Blazers 124-90 on Monday in the front half of a back-to-back set.
Brandon Ingram poured in 29 points before calling it a night after just 31 minutes in the win, which moved the Pelicans within a half-game of the Warriors (39-37) and Minnesota Timberwolves (39-37) in a fight for the final guaranteed playoff spot in the West. Minnesota currently holds the crucial sixth position by virtue of the conference-record tiebreaker.
The Warriors had Monday off to lick their wounds from a costly 99-96 home loss to the Timberwolves.
Williamson, who could miss the rest of the regular season, wasn’t a big factor — amassing a total of 25 points and five rebounds — when the Pelicans swept a pair at home from travel-weary Golden State in November. The Warriors sat Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins in both those games, which they lost by a total of 54 points.
The Warriors had Green and Thompson back — but still no Curry or Wiggins — when they got a measure of revenge in a 108-99 home win over the Pelicans on March 3. Thompson led the way with 27 points.
Curry has since returned, but he hasn’t been on top of his game in recent outings, shooting 2-for-8, 2-for-7 and 4-for-13 on 3-point attempts in Golden State’s past three contests.
The Warriors won two of the three, including beating the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday to open a three-game homestand. They had won nine in a row at home before falling to the Timberwolves on Sunday.
The good news for the Warriors in the loss was the Golden State season debut of Gary Payton II, who was acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers in February while he was dealing with a strained adductor. He had nine points in 15 minutes vs. Minnesota.
“He did a great job,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He looked good physically and he made some big plays for us. Gary was great.”
The Pelicans remain without their equivalent to Payton — guard Jose Alvarado (stress reaction in right tibia) — as they continue a rugged schedule that will see them follow the Warriors game with matchups against the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks.
They then will wrap up the season against a team they can tie in the standings on Tuesday night — the Timberwolves.
New Orleans has won five in a row entering the season-ending gauntlet, as five Pelicans scored in double figures on Monday. Jonas Valanciunas logged 10 points and a season-high 21 rebounds.
“We came in and just took care of business,” New Orleans coach Willie Green said. “We know the Trail Blazers are down … but it was important for us to respect our opponent.”