NEW ORLEANS — At this point of the season, there are no such things as style points. Points — and victories — are the only things that matter.
The normally high-powered Phoenix offense struggled to put away the short-handed New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night at the Smoothie King Center, but the Suns scored the game’s final seven points over a 1:52 span to secure a badly needed 94-88 win, their ninth in 11 games.
“They’re all can’t-lose at this point,” Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said after guards Gerald Green and Goran Dragic combined for 41 points and guard Eric Bledsoe scored all 16 of his points in the second half. “A win is a win. We needed this one and we need the next one. All these teams (in the West) keep winning. We have no choice but to keep winning.”
In sweeping the Pelicans for the first time since 2006-07, the Suns (47-31) remained one game ahead of Memphis for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. The Suns also moved within a half-game of Dallas for the seventh spot.
“We just got to keep winning,” said Bledsoe, who made several key plays down the stretch to key the comeback. “If we keep winning, we don’t have to dictate Memphis losing or Dallas losing. We just got to take care of our own business.”
Bledsoe gave Phoenix the lead for good, 89-88, pump-faking guard Austin Rivers into a flop and hitting a 20-footer with 1:52 left. Green led the Suns with 21 and Dragic added 20.
“He definitely flopped on me,” Bledsoe said of Rivers. “He had me pretty much locked up. When he fell, I had to shoot the ball.”
A few possessions earlier, Bledsoe made an aggressive move to the basket but lost the ball, coughing it up to Pelicans center Greg Steimsma. But rather than zone out against the Pelicans’ fast break, Bledsoe hustled down court and saw forward Luke Babbitt, a 3-point threat, wide open on the left wing. He snuck in and intercepted a cross-court pass by Rivers and then fed Dragic for a floater on the left baseline to tie the game at 87.
“I just ran to the open man,” Bledsoe said. “They had momentum swinging, and if he got the ball he probably would’ve made a 3, and that pretty much would’ve been the game. Those are just hustle plays.”
The New Orleans bench accounted for 53 points, led by reserve center Jeff Withey with a career-high 17 points. But the Pelicans (32-46), playing without All-Star forward Anthony Davis, dropped their sixth straight game.
“We had costly turnovers where we had control of the ball,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “We’re in transition and Austin’s trying to make the right play, which I love, but we could never get that play to give us a buffer. But I have nothing to complain about with that group. We held that team to 94 points. We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket enough times to win.”
Held scoreless in the first half, Bledsoe broke out for 12 points in a 24-18 third quarter to help the Suns expand their lead to 71-64. The Suns missed their first seven shots of the quarter and trailed 50-47 before Bledsoe caught fire, hitting five of six shots in a 5:29 span to put Phoenix up 67-57.
The Suns held the Pelicans to a season-low 14 points in the first quarter, with the Pelicans shooting five of 24 from the floor. The backcourt of forward Tyreke Evans, guard Brian Roberts and Rivers was a combined 1-for-12.
Withey, who played increasing minutes in the final month, said he hopes the Pelicans can try to finish strong in the final four games.
“We’re not looking at the finish line like that, we just want to finish strong and keep on getting better,” he said.
NOTES: Pelicans PF Anthony Davis was held out of Wednesday night’s game because of recurring back spasms. Coach Monty Williams is not prepared to say whether or not Williams will sit out the rest of the season. “We don’t know yet,” Williams said. “He just (isn’t) improving at the rate we felt he should. He’s had back spasms for a week. That’s a different deal. When a guy wants to play but he’s not improving, you put him out on the floor and that could make it worse.” … Suns G Gerald Green had flu-like symptoms on Tuesday but played against the Pelicans. … The Suns entered the game one full game behind Dallas for the eighth playoff spot in the West. “It’s been crazy,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “This has been going on, it seems like, for the past two months. One team thinks they’re out of it, then they go on a five-game winning streak and they’re back in the race.”
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