Pelicans, Kings bring ‘competitive fire’ to quarterfinal

A matchup between the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings has never had so much at stake.

Third-seeded New Orleans is visiting second-seeded Sacramento on Monday night in the West quarterfinals of the NBA in-season tournament.

The winner will advance to the semifinals of the tournament Thursday in Las Vegas. The Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns meet in the other West quarterfinal.

Sacramento went 4-0 while winning West Group C. The Pelicans won West Group B with a 3-1 mark.

“Very excited,” Kings big man Domantas Sabonis said after Saturday’s regular-season victory over the Denver Nuggets. “It’s going to be a fun one. It’s a knockout game. … These games are about bringing out your competitive fire.”

The Pelicans are 2-0 against the Kings this season, winning back-to-back games last month in New Orleans by 36 and five points.

Sacramento had issues defending Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson as New Orleans averaged 123 points in the two triumphs.

Ingram scored 31 points and Williamson added 26 in a 129-93 victory on Nov. 20.

Two nights later, Williamson scored 25 points and Ingram had 23 in a 117-112 victory. Williamson played on back-to-back nights for the first time this season over the weekend.

Williamson had a quiet 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting in a 121-106 victory over the visiting San Antonio Spurs on Friday. The next night, he was 10-of-15 shooting for 27 points during a 124-118 road loss to the Chicago Bulls.

“It was situational all along,” New Orleans coach Willie Green said of how the often-injured Williamson is being handled. “There were some back-to-backs where we held him out to try to manage what he’s dealing with. There may be games that aren’t back-to-back. … Big hurdle for him to get over (Saturday) and he went out and played a very good game.”

The loss to Chicago was just the second in the last nine games in which Williamson has played. Most bothersome to Green was seeing his squad outscored 71-57 in the second half.

“We have to be better with our execution on both ends of the floor,” Green said. “Definitely some mental errors on our part.”

New Orleans expects to have guard CJ McCollum available Monday. He didn’t make the trip to Chicago due to his recent lung issue.

McCollum returned to action Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers and averaged 19.5 points in two games, the second against the Spurs.

Shooting guard Trey Murphy III also will play. He made his season debut on Friday following knee surgery and had 18 points in 22 minutes against the Spurs. He was held out Saturday.

Sacramento warmed up for the clash with Saturday’s 123-117 takedown of the defending champion Nuggets.

De’Aaron Fox contributed 26 points and a career-best 16 assists and made just one turnover in 38 minutes.

Malik Monk also pumped in 26 points and he and Fox were a lethal combo in the final quarter. Monk scored 11 in the period and Monk had 10 points and five assists.

“They can’t stop both of us when we are out there,” Monk said. “It’s just pick your poison. Sometimes he’s on. Sometimes I’m on, but most of the time he’s on.”

Kings coach Mike Brown had similar thoughts.

“Fantastic, fantastic night from our best player when we needed it the most,” Brown said about Fox. “He has to step up in games like this for us to win.”

Fox averaged 20 points in the two meetings with the Pelicans but was just 4 of 19 from 3-point range.

Sabonis also had a solid game against Denver with 17 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists.