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Brandon Ingram leads Pelicans against Kings

The Sacramento Kings have the Western Conference No. 3 in their grip as they head into the final week of the regular season.

Meanwhile, the eighth-ranked New Orleans Pelicans have plenty of potential to move up or down with four games left, starting with a home game against the Kings Tuesday night.

But the serious threat of falling out of the 10 postseason spots that loomed over the Pelicans late last month is fading after the Pelicans (40-38) have won seven of their last eight games.

“The table changes every few minutes at this time of year,” said New Orleans coach Willie Green. “We all pay attention to that. We are human beings. But our focus is Sacramento and we just have to keep growing and building from there.”

The Pelicans can at least secure a place in the play-in tournament with a win against the Kings. They will come into play on Tuesday a half-game behind fifth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers and sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors, against whom they would win a head-to-head tiebreak as of now.

The Pelicans’ rise has been led by forward Brandon Ingram, who has 25+ points in nine straight games. During those nine games, he had his first two career triple-doubles and averaged 30.3 points, 8.2 assists, and 6.0 rebounds; Ingram shot 52.4 percent from the ground, 48.0 percent with 3-pointers, and 92.4 percent with free throws.

“He was great at pushing the ball,” center Jonas Valanciunas said of Ingram. “Not only scoring goals and reaching his middle, but also finding open lads. It’s deadly that he plays like that.”

The Kings (47-31) have already earned their first playoff appearance after a 16-year drought, but coach Mike Brown is concerned about his team’s focus as the postseason approaches.

“It lacks the physicality and urgency needed to bring every single possession to the table defensively,” Brown said. “Whether it allows a guy to blow past you without touching him, get off a screen without touching him, get an offensive rebound without boxing. Things like that are what I worry about.”

Sacramento is two games behind second-place Memphis and four games ahead of fourth-place Phoenix with four games left.

The Kings suffered a 142-134 overtime loss Sunday at home to San Antonio, which has the second-worst record in the West and played without multiple rotation players.

“This is not the best time for a big loss,” Guard De’Aaron Fox said. “We have to be able to get stops. Our season will depend on that.”

The loss prevented Sacramento from winning its premiership title in 20 years—at least temporarily.

“There are four games left,” said striker Domantas Sabonis. “We need to sharpen things.”

The Pelicans and the Kings have separated two previous encounters this season, both teams winning at home. New Orleans won 136-104 on February 5 and the Kings won 123-108 on March 6.

If the Kings finish as the No. 3 seed, the Pelicans are one of the few teams that could be the No. 6 seed and will face them in the first round of the playoffs.

– Field level media

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