The Clippers are in a “Game 7” type situation, as a win in the play-in against the Pelicans puts them into the playoffs, while a loss sends them home. Keep reading for a full preview of the Clippers’ play-in game against the Pelicans.
Where: Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, California
When: 7:00 PM PT
How to Watch: TNT
Projected Starting Lineups
Pelicans: CJ McCollum – Herb Jones – Brandon Ingram – Jaxson Hayes – Jonas Valanciunas
Clippers: Reggie Jackson – Paul George – Nic Batum – Marcus Morris – Ivica Zubac
Pelicans: Zion Williamson Out (Foot)
Clippers: Kawhi Leonard Out (Knee), Luke Kennard Questionable (Knee), Jay Scrubb Out (Foot), Jason Preston Out (Foot)
The Big Picture
The Clippers lost in a nail-biter on Tuesday to the Wolves, pushing them to the brink of elimination. Kawhi Leonard is still not back, and Luke Kennard is questionable, but the Clippers are about as healthy as they’ve been all year. If anything, while a good problem to have, the amount of options is probably difficult to juggle for Ty Lue and the coaching staff, who have to weigh trusted mainstays like Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris against newcomers Norm Powell (still not fully conditioned and with few reps) and Robert Covington. In a do-or-die play-in game against the Pelicans, it will be interesting to see who gets minutes on the Clippers, especially as a potential preview of later playoff series or even next season.
The Pelicans are kind of playing with house money. Starting the season 3-16, and receiving no games from wunderkind superstar Zion Williamson, it would have been easy for the Pels to have given up. Instead, they rallied around first-year head coach (and former Clipper!) Willie Green, and, buoyed by the midseason trade for CJ McCollum, worked their way into a play-in spot. After defeating the Spurs on Wednesday, they are, improbably, just one game from the playoffs. Would that be enough to win back the faith of Zion and really start something in New Orleans? The stakes probably aren’t that high, but the Pelicans are hungry, and they want the full postseason experience for the first time in five years.
Can the Clippers Go Small: Ty Lue loves to play small. Really, it might be his default setting when the going gets tough. However, he largely shied away from it against the Wolves, playing his centers a combined 39 minutes (with Ivica Zubac getting 32). Jonas Valanciunas is not as good of a player as Karl Anthony-Towns, but he’s extremely dangerous on offense, and is even more physical and bullying inside. The Clippers can do their fronting and doubling scheme when they play small, but it could really backfire, especially on the defensive glass. It will be interesting to see how much Ty goes small, and if they can get away with against Valanciunas, who will presumably play most of the game (he logged 36 minutes against the Spurs).
Picking on CJ: CJ McCollum is probably the Pelicans’ most talented bucket getter (though Brandon Ingram is right there) and has been surging since he arrived in New Orleans. However, a slim 6’3, and a poor defender, he stands no shot guarding Paul George or even Norm Powell. The Clippers need to do a much better job of forcing favorable switches, and CJ should be their primary target considering how much he’ll play. The Clippers weirdly failed to target the Wolves’ D’Angelo Russell much, and they can’t afford to do the same against the Pelicans. Not only can they score on CJ, but they can tire him out by making him play defense, and maybe even get him in foul trouble.
Switching or No Switching: The Clippers have made a name on defense as a team with a ton of wings that can play small and switch a lot. However, they got burned badly by the Wolves playing that way, as the Wolves kept getting Anthony Edwards on Marcus Morris and reaping easy drives as a result. While the Pelicans don’t have anyone as explosive as Ant, McCollum and Ingram are both very tough covers, and Morris, Reggie, Kennard, and even Covington (not great at point of attack) might all be overmatched there. Switching should still be something the Clippers deploy, but if they want to be super switch heavy, they need something like a Mann-Norm-PG-RoCo-Nico lineup. And, while that unit could see a bit of action, it’s tough to imagine Lue going away from Reggie or Morris much at this stage. Just be wary of switching too much, is all I’m saying.
How Big of an Edge is Homecourt: It’s not that great of an exaggeration to say the Wolves’ biggest asset on Tuesday was the home crowd. Minnesota turned up for the game, and every time they got even a couple stops and scores, Target Center went wild. Ty Lue was forced to call several timeouts just to slow the crowd’s impact, and that effected the Clippers at the end of the game. If the Clippers can get a similar boost against a largely young Pelicans team tonight, they will have a massive advantage. If the crowd is subpar, or is nervous instead of raucous (as is the case sometimes with Clippers’ fans), that edge will not be as impactful.
Well, that about does it for this preview of the Clippers’ play-in game against the Pelicans. Leave your comments below!