Pelicans lose without star forward Anthony Davis 74-72 at Suns _lowres

New Orleans Pelicans' Tyreke Evans (1) shoots over Phoenix Suns' Markieff Morris during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — A bad start to the day. A disappointing finish, and it was off to Oakland for the Pelicans.

Thursday began with superstar Anthony Davis rolling his left ankle at the team’s morning shoot-around and being unable to play Thursday night.

It continued later Thursday with center Omer Asik coming out of the game in the third quarter with 14 rebounds and a calf strain.

It ended when Tyreke Evans’ short jumper in the lane, that would have given the Pelicans a 74-73 lead, fell off the rim with two seconds to play.

And again, Pelicans’ fortunes turned dark a in the Valley of the Sun as the host Suns (36-33), winners of all four games over the Pelicans a year ago, avenged an earlier defeat in New Orleans with a 74-72 win in the first of three critical road games against winning Western Conference opponents over four days.

The loss dropped the Pelicans (37-31) a full game behind idle Oklahoma City (38-30) in the race for the eighth Western Conference playoff spot. Phoenix (36-33) is only a game behind the Pelicans.

There wasn’t much time for healing or self-pity for the Pelicans as they faced the West’s top seed, Golden State, Friday night.

With Davis out and Asik gone for nearly a half, it’s understandable that the Pelicans struggled from inside.

“In the paint (Thursday night), we were 15 of 42,” coach Monty Williams said. “We struggled at the rim.”

And most everywhere else.

The Pelicans hit 5 of 10 free throws to Phoenix’s 14 of 21.

Phoenix hit just 29 of 83 shots and was a dreadful 2 of 22 from 3-point distance. Its 74 points tied the mark for the fewest points in a franchise win.

“You have nights like this and you have to find a way to win,” Pelicans guard Norris Cole said. “We gave ourselves a chance.”

The Pelicans hit 9 of 20 shots in the third quarter to Phoenix’s 4 of 21 to trim a nine-point halftime deficit to 55-53 at the end of three quarters.

Late in the fourth, Eric Gordon’s 3-pointer with 45 seconds to play in regulation pulled the Pelicans to within 73-72.

After a Suns miss and a Pelicans rebound and timeout with 16 seconds left, Evans worked his way into the lane for a good look at the rim, but his soft lob hit both sides of the rim before falling out.

“We gave ourselves a shot,” Williams said. “Even when we got down by four, Eric makes a big shot. Both teams were fighting tonight. Nobody could score the ball. Our guys just competed. We had guys falling again tonight like flies but all of our guys fought to try to get us a chance to win.”

Both Davis and Asik were walking gingerly coming out of the arena. Davis’ latest injury marked his eighth missed game over the last 17 with the Pelicans now 4-4 in those games.

“I’d have love to have had Omer down the stretch,” Williams said. “He tried to go, that’s the thing I was most proud of, he just couldn’t get himself going.”

Dante Cunningham replaced Davis in the starting lineup and finished with six points and nine rebounds.

The Pelicans are also without starter Jru Holiday (stress reaction to his lower right leg) and sharp-shooting sixth man Ryan Anderson (sprained MCL).

Gordon sounded as though he can hardly believe what he’s been seeing.

“It’s tough. It’s crazy,” Gordon said. “At this point in the year, it’s going to boil down to who is the healthiest and who can execute the most.”