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LOS ANGELES — A bunched up Western Conference has the New Orleans Pelicans
knowing there is plenty to play for with two games remaining in the regular

With a victory Monday at Los Angeles against the Clippers Colin
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, the Pelicans would move one win away from
clinching at least the No. 5 seed in the conference. They could even move up to
No. 4 with a little help from opponents playing the Utah Jazz, who are currently
in fourth place.

But the jammed pack conference also means a backward slide could take a heavy
toll. The Pelicans were officially fifth in the conference before Sunday’s
games, with teams in fifth, sixth (Spurs), and seventh (Thunder) all possessing
46-34 records.

Denver was in ninth place in the conference, just outside a playoff spot, but
was just one game behind the Pelicans in the standings.

If anything, the Pelicans are soaring into Los Angeles behind their
hard-earned victory at Golden State on Saturday.

“Knowing this was like a playoff game and a playoff atmosphere, knowing where
we are in the playoff race and knowing we haven’t won (at Golden State) in a
while, (it) was a big confidence booster,” Pelicans forward Anthony Davis said,
according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “We knew we’d probably have to win
four games of the last five to make sure we solidify a spot in the

It remains to be seen what type of Clippers team the Pelicans will run into.
Monday’s matchup had been shaping up to be a big one between Western Conference
playoff contenders Wes
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, but a recent Clippers slide officially
eliminated them from their seventh consecutive playoff appearance.

The Clippers (42-38) could be a team intent on showing they still have
something to prove, even if the playoffs are out of the question, or they could
exhale knowing their late-season chase has ended.

The Clippers might have lost four of their last five games, but after
considering what he might do with the season winding down, coach Doc Rivers
suggested that his team will not treat the Pelicans with indifference.

“We have two games left and I don’t even know how I’m going to approach those
games,” Rivers told the assembled media after Saturday’s loss to the Nuggets. “I
may play all the starters, I may play all the young guys and just let them get

“I think I have to play the guys against New Orleans, honestly. I think we
really have to go after that game. I just believe in protecting the league.
That’s what we should do, and I hope we do that.”

The Clippers will conclude the season with four point guards on injured
reserve: Patrick Beverley (knee), Avery Bradley (groin), Milos Teodosic (foot)
and Jawun Evans (abdomen). Even leading scorer Lou Williams is ailing with an
ankle injury and was listed as day-to-day. Forward Danilo Gallinari is also
day-to-day with a hand injury.

The Pelicans have made their playoff push despite losing DaMarcus Cousins
(Achilles) for the season. Guard Ian Clark is dealing with an ankle injury.

WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals are approaching July 4 on the verge of
becoming what nobody predicted them to be when the season started — a .500

Washington fell to 42-41 Monday night with 4-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox,
their sixth loss in seven games. Once again Albert
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, they did almost enough to win, falling behind
3-0 and rallying within one before Craig Kimbrell retired Anthony Rendon with
the tying run on base to end it.

Max Scherzer, who has had an impressive year at the plate as well as on the
mound, ironically was done in by friend and former pitching teammate Rick
Porcello, whose bases-loaded double off Scherzer in the second inning made it

“I wish I had a lot to say about that, but I don’t really know what
happened,” Porcello, who improved to 10-3, told “Obviously I know he’s
got a big fastball and I just got lucky. He got to the top of his windup and I
told myself start swinging and I hit it.”

With the loss, Washington dropped seven games behind the Atlanta Braves in
the NL East.

“This is where the test is, that even when things aren’t going your way, when
things are bleak Eli Apple
, when we haven’t been playing great baseball, you have to
find a way to take and find certain things you are doing well and just try to
build off those,” Scherzer, winless in his last five starts, told
“That’s just what the whole team has to do.”

The Red Sox (57-29) survived solo homers by Rendon in the fourth, Daniel
Murphy in the sixth and Bryce Harper in the eighth.

Reliever Joe Kelly surrendered the Harper homer to cut Boston’s lead to 4-3.
Since the start of June, Kelly has pitched 9 1/3 innings and allowed 12 hits and
nine earned runs.

“We’ll keep working with him, one thing that he needs to do better is tempo,”
Red Sox manager Joey Cora said. “I think his tempo is going the other way
instead of being more aggressive, and just grab the ball and throw it. So, we’ll
talk to him.”

Boston left-hander Brian Johnson (1-2, 4.28) opposes right-hander Tanner
Roark (3-9 Sterling
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, 4.10) on Tuesday night.

Johnson allowed a run in four innings for the Red Sox Thursday night against
the Angels in place of Steven Wright, who went on the disabled list with a knee
injury early last week. Tuesday could be Johnson’s last turn in the rotation
with Drew Pomeranz close to returning.

Roark is glad to put June in his rearview mirror. He went 1-4 with a 6.08 ERA
in five starts and one relief appearance, surrendering 18 earned runs in 26 2/3
innings. He did show improvement last time out, allowing two runs — one earned —
on seven hits over six innings of a 4-3 loss to the Phillies while sporting a
mustache and mutton chops.

“Tanner pitched good enough to win and that was good to see,” Nationals
manager Dave Martinez told the Washington Post. “He started off a little erratic
and then all of a sudden he started getting the ball down, which is good. He
pitched well.”

Roark, sounding like any respectably superstitious baseball player, told the
Post he’s keeping the mutton chops.

“I feel like it’s a pretty decent look,” he said.

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