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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans running out of time, hope to find answers against Los Angeles Clippers

The Pels failed in the clutch yet again on Saturday night. Can they bounce back in L.A. against Tobias Harris and his solid group of teammates?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The home town team came up big in the clutch again. After taking a punch to the mouth early, the squad that has shown resilience time after time during the regular season once again found a way to overcome adversity in the minutes that mattered most.

I’m talking, of course, about the New Orleans Saints!

The New Orleans Pelicans have entirely been another story. With top-end talent and and a momentous finish to the 2017/18 season built largely upon late-game heroics, this current version of the Pelicans continues to come up short.

On Saturday night, for instance, the Pelicans had finally returned to health and thought to reverse the fortunes of what has been a disappointing campaign.

The offense had been clicking in Elfrid Payton’s return, and with heavy minutes distributed to Nikola Mirotic and E’Twaun Moore, the Pelicans appeared to have regained the full might of their depth chart in time to face a team in the Minnesota Timberwolves they had just defeated without Anthony Davis only two weeks prior.

It didn’t matter.

The Saints and Pelicans are headed in two wildly different directions. One is headed for a chance at immortality while the other could turn into a pumpkin as the clock strikes midnight on the 2018/19 season.

Head coach Alvin Gentry took much of the blame on himself, and with good reason following the loss to the Wolves. There was puzzling heavy minute workoad allotted to Tim Frazier, as well as electing to stick with E’Twaun Moore over Elfrid Payton late on a night when he simply didn’t have it.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless of the circumstance or scenarios, the Pelicans simply must start winning and doing it with regularity. They’ll get their next chance in the Staples Center against the Los Angeles Clippers, but having lost a dreadful 17 of 22 games on the road this season, a bounce back performance out of the comforts of the Smoothie King Center hardly seems logical.

The Pelicans last faced these Clippers on December third in New Orleans. You should remember it well. The Pelicans gave up 77 first-half points and trailed by as many as 18 before a furious comeback gave them a four-point advantage with just under four minutes remaining. However, Julius Randle would foul out and take the Pelicans’ offense with him. Holiday did his best to mitigate the absences of both Nikola Mirotic and Elfrid Payton by producing 32 points and 14 assists, but the Pelicans would fall 129-126.

The Clippers have experienced ups and downs since then, winning just eight of their last 19 games including two recent losses to the Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons. Blake Griffin, still sore from last season’s trade, lit up twitter with his response to Steve Ballmer’s attempt at reconciliation.

So here we are, 20-23 against the 24-18, sixth-seeded Clippers.

The story remains the same. The Clippers display a balance offensive attack, led by fringe All-Stars Tobias Harris (20.8 ppg), Danilo Gallinari (19.5), the bench-scoring of Montrezl Harrell (15.8), and the man who lit up the Pelicans to the tune of 27 points last month, Lou Williams (18.6).

The Clippers lead the NBA in getting to the line (29 FTA), are third in shooting efficiency (1.145), are fourth-best in scoring (115.3), and third-best in converting from three (38%), even though they only attempt 25 shots per game (29th).

Defensively, to beat the Clippers the Pelicans will have to win the boards, challenge shots, and minimize fouling. Offensively, they’ll need to win in the paint, in transition and get to the line, where the Clippers are 24th, 27th, and 28th, respectively.

Most importantly, they’ll need to get hot early. The Pelicans have played from behind far too often this season, and with a team as explosive as the Clippers, catching up will prove yet another tall order.

Clippers’ head coach Doc Rivers is doing his best to win a second Coach of the Year Award (2000), making Alvin Gentry’s challenge all the greater.

Gentry will have some interesting rotations to consider. The Pelicans best five-man unit came with Nikola Mirotic in the starting lineup. When will he see coach Gentry move Randle back to the bench? Will Gentry continue to show faith in Frank Jackson and Jahlil Okafor, or will he pair Mirotic and Randle together again after seeing disastrous results defensively this season?

Stay tuned, Pels fans. The season is not lost yet. Enjoy the ride, and pray for the tide to turn!

Let’s geaux, Pels!

Los Angeles New Orleans
Pace: 100.7 (9th) Pace: 102.0 (6th)
ORtg: 113.4 (7th) ORtg: 114.7 (3rd)
DRtg: 112.3 (23rd) DRtg: 112.5 (25th)
Projected Starters:
Los Angeles New Orleans
PG - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander PG - Elfrid Payton
SG - Avery Bradley SG - Jrue Holiday
SF - Tobias Harris F - E'Twaun Moore
F - Danilo Gallinari PF - Julius Randle
C - Marcin Gortat C - Anthony Davis

Where To Watch

What: New Orleans Pelicans (20-23) at Los Angeles Clippers (24-18)

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

When: Monday, January 14, 2018, 9:30 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, FSN, 99.5 FM WRNO