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NBA Preview: Bledsoe, last year’s Pelican scapegoat, an important piece for visiting Clippers

Will Zion play again in 2021?

Los Angeles Clippers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

What will it take for the Pelicans (2-14) to win their third game of the year?

In their next outing, our guys take on the Los Angeles Clippers, who despite the injury to Kawhi Leonard, sport the league’s 4th best net rating and a more than solid 9-5 start. They’ve won 8 of 9 before their matchup against Memphis Thursday night as the first part of a quick two-game road trip.

On to the Clippers

We’ve got to wrap our minds around it, folks: Reggie Jackson and, gasp, ERIC BLEDSOE, are providing a ton of playmaking alongside Paul George to keep Los Angeles’ offense afloat. But, per usual for a Doc Rivers coached team, the Clips are defined by team defense. So far, they rank 2nd in the league in defensive rating and are particularly buttoned up in this newly officiated league, allowing just the fewest free throw attempts and 3rd-worst field goal percentage from inside the arc.

In addition to their “solid” defense, they can also fly around, causing turnovers and blocks at the rim, thanks to the post play of Ivica Zubac, Isaiah Hartenstein, Nic Batum (almost a full-time power forward now), and, wings Paul George and, gasp, ERIC BLEDSOE.

Bledsoe is third in free throw attempts, second in assists, fourth in blocks, and second in steals for the Clippers. Terance Mann and Luke Kennard (44.3% 3FG) are the offensive cogs off the bench — Pelicans rookie Herb Jones could find time guarding any one of the above, particularly if someone catches fire. Will any Pelican have the skills and mental toughness to handle the heady Batum, silky George, or confident Jackson?

Nola Offense on Night Mode

Someone—anyone—has got to keep the Nola offense going to prevent massive in-game runs like those they seemingly allow every game. Wednesday against the Heat, that “run” really represented everything after the first quarter, exemplified by their inability to score one single field goal over almost 8 minutes in the second quarter (10:06 to 2:18).

Josh Hart did show moments of spark and energy, pushing the ball and looking for open teammates. Nickeil may well be on his way to turning the corner, something all Pellies fans have been anticipating for month after month, as he leads more possessions. Last game, he got up 18 shots and scored a team-high 24 points in less than 28 minutes.

Turnovers typically spell doom for New Orleans, and the MIami dead period saw a bunch of them, alongside missed shots from all over the floor, but particularly on jumpers.

The Pelicans offense ranks near the bottom of the league in a plethora of stats, made only worse by the league’s worst-ranked defense. It’s that simple, really.

And don’t forget: Zion Williamson hasn’t played a game and won’t be evaluated until around Thanksgiving. Could we see him again in 2021? At this rate, who knows.

Geaux Pelicans!

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (2-14) vs Los Angeles Clippers (9-6)

When: November 19, 2021, 7:00 pm

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @trabeta.