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Suns Strokes: Suns scrape by Pelicans 74-72, help tighten playoff gap

PHOENIX — On the day the Big Dance took center stage, the Phoenix Suns had to feel they were in a sudden death game against New Orleans.

The Suns closed the gap to just two-and-a-half games behind Oklahoma City in the chase for a playoff spot by scraping by the Pelicans 74-72 Thursday night.

The 74 points tied a franchise record for the fewest points scored in a win.

“I think it was a throwback night to the 30s,” said a smiling Jeff Hornacek. “Yeah it wasn’t a pretty game, but I think defensively our guys got after it.”

The Suns had to overcome a horrendous shooting performance from Eric Bledsoe and from beyond the arc.

Entering the fourth quarter, Bledsoe was 2-of-12 with just five points, and as a team, the Suns missed 15 of their first 16 three-point attempts. Bledsoe would never score again and miss 13 of his 15 shots.

So did the four-day layoff go from rest to rust for Bledsoe?

“We were in a dogfight,” said Bledsoe. “I played great defense. I had 11 rebounds. I had a bunch of steals, too. So if I’m not making shots, I don’t worry about it because I do so much to help my team win.”

Despite all missed shots (and missing starters Brandon Knight and Alex Len, who are still nursing ankle injuries), the Suns playoff hopes are alive and well after New Orleans’ Tyreke Evans’ 11-foot jumper rolled off the rim.

“We’ve been watching the NCAA games,” Hornacek said referring to all the close games on the first day of the tournament. “We’ve got some bad bounces earlier in the season, and in the last few weeks we’ve had a couple go our way.”

With Anthony Davis sitting out after twisting his ankle during Thursday’s shootaround, the Suns controlled the paint, scoring 40 points and outrebounding the Pelicans 57-45. That 57th rebound was yanked down by P.J. Tucker, ultimately sealing the victory.

“He wants it,” Hornacek said of Tucker. “He’s got a knack and a nose for the ball. Especially at the end of the game when bodies are crashing around, what better guy to have in there than Tuck.”

If the final playoff spot does come down to the Suns and Pelicans, their matchup on April 10 could very well decide it.

THE GOOD

Brandan Wright woke the crowd up (and the Suns) in the first quarter with a left-handed dunk to cut the Pelicans’ lead to two points. He followed it up with a jumper.

Wright finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots in one of his best games in a Suns uniform since being acquired from Boston back in January.

The Suns ended the first quarter on a 13-3 run, holding the Pelicans to just one bucket in the final 5:33.

Archie Goodwin caught fire in the second quarter scoring 10 of the team’s 22 points, leading them to a nine-point halftime lead, 43-34.

THE BAD

Eric Bledsoe struggled to start the game going 1-for-5 from the floor with two points in the first 12 minutes. Bledsoe finished 2-for-8 from the floor with just four points in the first half.

The Suns hoisted up six shots from three-point land in the first quarter and only made one of them. They’d miss 20-of-22 throughout, as Gerald Green hit a big three at the 10-minute mark of the fourth quarter.

STATS OF THE GAME

Out of the 22 three-pointers the Suns attempted they only made two of them for 9 percent shooting from three.

The last time the Suns scored 74 points in a game and won, was 1998 in Miami.

HE SAID IT

“That’s really a good team. One player pretty much doesn’t make a team. I think they were 4-1 without Anthony Davis, now they’re 4-2.” — Eric Bledsoe on the Pelicans playing without Anthony Davis

NOTED

• Coach Hornacek said Brandon Knight and Alex Len may be able to play against the Rockets on Saturday. Knight has missed four straight games, while Len has missed the last two.

• Before Thursday’s game, the Suns announced they signed seven-foot veteran Earl Barron for the remainder of the season. Barron played nearly seven minutes and missed the only shot he took. The 33-year old center has appeared in eight games for the Suns before Thursday, including one start. Barron averaged a double-double, (20 points, 10 rebounds), in 27 games with the Bakersfield Jam this season.

UP NEXT

The Suns will travel to Houston to play the Rockets on Saturday at the Toyota Center.

In their fourth and final game of the season, the Suns will try to avoid being swept by the Rockets. In their last meeting, MVP candidate James Harden racked up 40 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter, and was one assist shy of a triple double, as the Rockets beat the Suns in Phoenix 127-118.

The 127 points were the most the Suns have allowed in a non-overtime game this season.

Harden is coming off a career high 50 points against Denver on Thursday.

Tip-off is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.