After the Clippers’ first two-day rest of 2021, they’re back in action against a talented but underperforming New Orleans squad. Read on for a full Clippers vs Pelicans game preview.
Clippers vs Pelicans Game Information
Where: STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 7:00 PM Pacific Time, Wednesday, January 13th, 2021
How To Watch: ESPN, Fox Sports Prime Ticket
Projected Starting Lineups
LA Clippers: Patrick Beverley – Paul George – Kawhi Leonard – Nicolas Batum – Serge Ibaka
New Orleans Pelicans: Eric Bledsoe – Josh Hart – Brandon Ingram – Zion Williamson – Steven Adams
UPDATE: With Eric Bledsoe and Zion Williamson both ruled out for the Pelicans, their starting lineup is a bit of a mystery. Rookie Kira Lewis Jr is the only point guard remaining available, but he has played sparingly to start the year. J.J. Redick and Nicolo Melli could slide in at guard and forward, with Ingram doing more ball handling.
LA Clippers: Ivica Zubac – Questionable (abdominal soreness), Jay Scrubb – Out (foot surgery)
New Orleans Pelicans: Lonzo Ball – Out (bilateral knee tendinopathy), Eric Bledsoe – Out (right eye irritation), J.J. Redick – Probable (right hamstring tightness), Zion Williamson – Out (health and safety protocol)
UPDATE: Without Ball, Bledsoe, and Williamson, the Pelicans will have to reach deep into their bench tonight. Look for former Clipper Sindarius Thornwell to get minutes, along with depth guards Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis Jr. Former Trail Blazers forward Wenyen Gabriel could make his season debut.
The Big Picture
After disappointing losses last week to the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors (and close calls in their wins vs the Warriors and Chicago Bulls), the Clippers aren’t quite firing on all cylinders. Still, their 7-4 record sees them tied for second place in the NBA’s Western Conference, and things feel like they’re going in the right direction–the starting lineup, featuring breakout stud Nicolas Batum, is still putting up powerhouse numbers and Ty Lue’s new bench rotation, which goes away from Reggie Jackson altogether while staggering Lou Williams and Luke Kennard, should provide the Clippers with a lot more consistency and stability on both ends.
You can perhaps forgive the team for their losses last week, as the game against the Spurs came without Paul George and the loss to the Warriors had a lot more to do with Steph Curry finding supernova mode than anything else. But nonetheless, this is supposed to be the easy part of the team’s schedule, and they’ll need to start capitalizing in the next couple of weeks. After this game against the Pelicans, the Clippers’ next five games include two each against the Sacramento Kings and Oklahoma City Thunder, plus a home contest against the road-weary Indiana Pacers who will be playing their fifth game in seven nights. All of these teams are within a game or two of .500, so these games won’t be pushovers, but it’s a string of games that LAC should hopefully win to get a little streak going before they head out on a big road trip.
The primary thing to watch for from the Clippers in this game is that new second unit rotation that Ty Lue is using–not just how the bench unit performs (hopefully changing course from routinely allowing runs in the first 10 games of the season) but how individual substitutes who are crucial to LAC’s long-term success perform. We’ve only seen this new rotation once, but it was encouraging. Lou Williams had a stellar game against Chicago after a slot start to the year. Ivica Zubac has had an abysmal opening stretch but showed signs of life against the Bulls. Luke Kennard will hopefully find more comfort as a shooter and passive playmaker in units full of starters who can cover for him defensively, and Marcus Morris should continue to shake rust off after returning from injury.
Along with those other teams I discussed above, the New Orleans Pelicans certainly aren’t bad. The forward duo of Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson is a spectacular pair of 23-and-under stars, and the team around them has a number of veteran guys who have proven they can make good contributions to an NBA team: Eric Bledsoe, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, J.J. Redick, Steven Adams.
The Pelicans are one of a number of teams in the NBA this season who you wouldn’t be shocked to take down a contender on any given night or win multiple big games over the course of the season. But when all is said and done, I also wouldn’t be surprised if they not only miss the playoffs but find themselves in 11th or 12th place and missing out on the play-in tournament (I think in my pre-season predictions I ranked them 10th in the West).
The main reason the Pelicans have struggled to start the year is their offense, which is simply stuck in the mud. They have the league’s 22nd-rated offense and shoot 32.2% from deep–dead last in the NBA. That number will improve over the course of a 72-game campaign, as good shooters like Lonzo Ball and J.J. Redick who feature prominently in their rotation will find their stroke after a cold start. But spacing will continue to be an issue for a team that plays Zion Williamson and Steven Adams, both of whom don’t even look at the rim from deep, together for long stretches. Eric Bledsoe, a decidedly mediocre shooter, has been their most efficient marksman so far this season.
Long story short, the Pelicans are going to be scary on a night-to-night basis for a long time because they are young, and they have talent. But in order to really threaten the NBA’s hierarchy on a season-long scale, they’re gonna have to figure some things out: spacing the floor better, a more organized offensive scheme, and upping the tempo (they’re 24th in the league in pace) to match the skillset of their players, who are at their best going to the rim.
Clippers vs Pelicans Game Notes
- Hot Shooting: The Clippers have faced some serious downpours in the last week, as the Spurs, Warriors, and Bulls have all had extreme outlier team and individual shooting performances (San Antonio 20-40, Patty Mills 8-12; Golden State 20-41, Steph Curry 9-14; Chicago Bulls 18-33, Zach LaVine 10-16). But even after taking those punches, the Clippers are still on the good side of the variance gods: they’re first in the league at an unsustainable 42.4% from deep and still only slightly below average on defense, allowing 37.4% (20th).
The Pelicans, even for a team without many shooters and with poor spacing, are going to shoot better than 32.2% from deep for the year. Surely, the Clippers have earned a break after the week they’ve endured… but surely, the Pelicans are overdue. Don’t forget that the Clippers blew out New Orleans in a bubble seeding game behind a franchise record 25 made three pointers.
- No Guards? Pending a handful of game-time decisions, the Pelicans could find themselves quite shorthanded at guard tonight. Starter Lonzo Ball has already been ruled out due to a knee issue, and fellow starter Eric Bledsoe and key reserve J.J. Redick are both dinged up. I expect Eric and JJ to both play, but you never know. Josh Hart is available for quality minutes at shooting guard, but if the Pels go deeper into their bench the Clippers should look to exploit matchups against Nickiel Alexander-Walker and former fan favorite Sindarius Thornwell.
- Center Depth: With Ivica Zubac questionable due to abdominal soreness, we might get a chance to see how much utility Ty Lue can squeeze out of the four roster spots that the Clippers burned on Mfiondu Kabengele, Daniel Oturu, and Patrick Patterson (signed to above the minimum, blocking off two roster spots). One of those guys is going to have to be the emergency center tonight if Zu can’t go, unless Lue fully unleashes small ball and puts one of Batum, Leonard, or Morris at center and includes Reggie Jackson and/or Terance Mann in his rotation.
- The Foul Line: The main way that the Pelicans make up for their poor three-point shooting is by having downhill drivers who excel at getting to the foul line. They’re third in the league in free throw attempts per game despite their slow pace, though they aren’t great at converting them. They also are the best team in the NBA at keeping their opponents off the free throw line. With the Clippers below average in both categories (not getting to the line enough and putting their opponents on the line too much), the Pelicans will be an interesting test of that weakness. Additionally, any foul trouble the Clippers wind up with could be a further test of their precarious depth. Imagine if Zu can’t go and Ibaka ends up in foul trouble?
- Game Thread: The comments for this post will be our live thread for tonight’s game. Sign up for a free account and join the conversation!
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