NEW ORLEANS – If the New Orleans Pelicans are to advance in the NBA Playoffs for just the third time in their history that began here in 2002-03, they may have to get by Phoenix All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker once or twice.
Booker, who has missed the last three games of the series with a strained right hamstring, could return for Game 6 Thursday night at the Smoothie King Center (7:30 p.m. eastern, TNT) or for a Game 7 in Phoenix on Saturday, if necessary.
The No. 1 seed Suns lead the No. 8 seed Pelicans, 3-2, in the best-of-seven Western Conference first round after a 112-97 win on Tuesday in Phoenix.
“He’s progressing right now,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said after a light practice Wednesday in New Orleans. “He’s getting shots in practice. But there’s no change in the update.”
Booker was listed as out for Thursday’s game as of Thursday morning, but that could change. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowki first reported that Booker had a chance to play Thursday or Saturday. But ESPN also reported that Booker would be out for two or three weeks soon after he injured the hamstring in the Game 2 loss to New Orleans in Phoenix on April 19.
Booker averged 26.8 points and 4.8 assists a game in the regular season in 68 games as Phoenix posted the best record in the league at 64-18. He missed seven games in December with a strained left hamstring and has dealt with hamstring issues at other times this season throughout his seven-year career. He played through a hamstring injury last season as the Suns reached the NBA Finals before losing to Milwaukee, four games to two.
Booker scored 31 points with seven three-pointers in the first half of the Game 2 loss before the injury early in the third quarter.
“He understands how important (Thursday’s) game is, but he also understands the future,” Williams said.
If Phoenix can get by New Orleans without Booker, he would have several more days off before the Suns would play the winner of No. 4 seed Dallas and No. 5 seed Utah. Those two play in the late game Thursday (10 p.m. eastern, TNT) with Dallas leading three games to two.
Phoenix point guard Chris Paul could use the help if Booker returns. He could be seen huffing and puffing during the Suns’ 112-97 win in Phoenix on Tuesday on his way to 22 points, 11 assists and three steals in 39 minutes.
In the Suns’ 118-103 loss at New Orleans on Sunday in Game 4, Paul tied a career playoff low with four points in 35 minutes. In the Suns’ first game in this series without Booker, Paul scored 28 points with 14 assists in a 114-111 win at New Orleans in Game 3.