On March 14, the Clippers (43-20) were run out of Smoothie King Center by the Pelicans, 135-115. Head coach Ty Lue described the loss as a “wake up call.” Maybe it was — since that date the Clippers have been one of the league’s hottest teams. But on Monday night, in a familiar arena, L.A. looked drowsy, losing 120-103 to New Orleans and falling one step further from the second seed.
Paul George and Marcus Morris Sr. hunted their own offense early, settling for, and making, tough off the dribble jumpers. The duo combined for seven of L.A.’s first nine as the Clippers shot out to a 9-2 lead early. Then the Clippers got punched in the mouth, fell down and by the time they got to their feet eight minutes later, had been outscored 31-7. It was emblematic of the night’s theme: each time the Clippers strung together runs, the Pelicans — who have blown a league-leading 14 double-digit leads — answered resoundingly each and every time, eventually breaking the game open at the end of the third quarter on their way to a blowout win.
The Pelicans, who more closely resembled a high school track team — bursting with energy in a carefree manner — raced past the Clippers, at one point hitting 10-straight shots. Seemingly half asleep, despite two off days since their last game, the Clippers allowed backdoor cuts and committed lackadaisical turnovers (19, tied for season-high), gifting a volley of fast-break buckets to an opportunistic, hot-shooting Pelicans team.
L.A.’s top three active scorers, George, Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson, combined to shoot just 6-for-24 in the first half. The Clippers ended the night just above 40% from the field and an uncharacteristic 31% from three. Meanwhile, the Pelicans, much like they did in the team’s last meeting, shot the lights out from deep (15-for-29). Terrance Mann scored a team-high 17 and George finally cooled off, scoring just nine points (3-for-11).
Cousins’ Contributions: After being signed for the remainder of season earlier in the day, Demarcus Cousins seems ready to make the most of his opportunity. Cousins finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes and finished with the best plus-minus of any Clipper who played over 10 minutes.
Mann Shines as Starter: Even with tonight’s loss, the Clippers are 8-2 with Mann in the starting lineup. In the wake of the resting Luke Kennard, Mann played a team-high 29 minutes and at times seemed like the only Clipper up to the occasion. Mann hit a pair of threes, all seven of his free throws and played active defense, often the first Clipper up and down the floor.
Wednesday’s Matchup Looms: Wednesday’s prime-time showdown between the Clippers and Suns suddenly looks like it may decide the West’s second seed. Entering the day tied in win percentage, the Suns took down the streaking Knicks to take a one game lead for the second seed over L.A. If the Clippers rally and take down the Suns, things will be tied up again. If the Suns come out on top however, their two-win advantage in the standings could prove insurmountable.
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