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NEW ORLEANS:  Larry Nance Jr. #22 of the New Orleans Pelicans rebounds the ball over Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns during the first quarter of an NBA game at Smoothie King Center on April 01, 2024 in New Orleans, Louisiana. – AFP
NEW ORLEANS: Larry Nance Jr. #22 of the New Orleans Pelicans rebounds the ball over Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns during the first quarter of an NBA game at Smoothie King Center on April 01, 2024 in New Orleans, Louisiana. – AFP
Booker scores 52-point as Suns eclipse Pelicans

LOS ANGELES: Devin Booker produced a 52-point masterpiece as the Phoenix Suns eclipsed the New Orleans Pelicans 124-111 in the NBA on Monday. Booker boosted Phoenix’s hopes of overtaking New Orleans for an automatic playoff berth with a dazzling performance on the road at the Pelicans’ Smoothie King Center. The Phoenix win — which ensured that the Minnesota Timberwolves have clinched a playoff spot — leaves the Suns just one win behind sixth-placed New Orleans. As things stand Phoenix are now 44-31 and on course for the Western Conference play-in tournament.

However New Orleans (45-30) face a nerve-wracking finale to the regular season, knowing that one slip could be fatal. All five of Phoenix’s starters posted double digit points totals, with Kevin Durant finishing with 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists, and Jusuf Nurkic adding 19 points with 19 rebounds.

Zion Williamson led the New Orleans scoring with 30 points while Trey Murphy added 21. Elsewhere on Monday, Jayson Tatum and Sam Hauser both scored 25 points as the Boston Celtics romped past the Charlotte Hornets 118-104 in North Carolina.

Boston, who have already secured top spot in the Eastern Conference, were stung by the Hornets in a surprise upset defeat earlier this season. But despite trailing early on in Monday’s game, there was little chance of a repeat defeat after the Celtics cut loose to open up a commanding 19-point advantage in the fourth quarter. Hauser’s 25-point contribution off the bench included seven three-pointers while starters Kristaps Porzingis (20), Derrick White (19) and Al Horford (15) also made double figures.

Taken for granted

Tatum said Monday’s victory was cause for encouragement as the playoffs loom into view with less than a fortnight of the regular season remaining. “Last year we were so antsy to get back to the finals, that we had a few bad losses in the last few weeks of the season,” Tatum said. “We may have taken some things for granted. “This year we’ve done a great job of not skipping steps and respecting every game, every day, trying to get better — as cliche as that sounds.”

In Indianapolis meanwhile the Indiana Pacers boosted their hopes of locking an automatic playoff berth with a 133-111 rout of the Brooklyn Nets. Tyrese Haliburton led the way with 27 points while Jalen Smith had 17 points off the bench.

The Pacers improved to 43-33 to remain in sixth place in the Eastern Conference just ahead of seventh placed Miami (41-33) who are on track to finish in the play-in tournament. The Pacers were always in control after erupting for 43 points in the first quarter, a display which helped them take a 28-point into the break at half-time.

“When we’re playing like that, fast and random, we can be tough to play against,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. Carlisle sounded a note of caution to his team however as they prepare for a rematch against Brooklyn on the road on Wednesday.

“We’ve got a real challenge on Wednesday with the way this went. We’ll have to be ready, because they’ll be ready. It will be a very good test.” Brooklyn meanwhile are all but eliminated from postseason contention. The Nets are 29-47 and sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, trailing 10th-placed Atlanta (34-40). The Hawks edged towards a place in the play-in tournament with a 113-101 win over the Chicago Bulls on the road. — AFP

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