The murderer’s row portion of the schedule is upon us.
The New Orleans Pelicans will welcome the Los Angeles Clippers in the Smoothie King Center tonight, marking the start of eight straight contests against formidable foes with winning records.
Next to an upcoming matchup against the Lakers on March 23, this evening’s test versus the Clippers will likely present the most difficult challenge between now and the end of the month.
While the Pelicans didn’t have the services of Zion Williamson, Eric Bledsoe and Lonzo Ball in a 111-106 January loss, this L.A. matchup is a terrible one on paper for New Orleans. If you may recall, the Clippers destroyed the Pelicans in a game they led 77-45 at halftime inside the bubble.
The L.A. attack is led by the forward tandem of Kawhi Leonard (26.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists) and Paul George (23.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists) and a cadre of three-point shooters.
The Clippers are the most proficient NBA team from behind the arc at 42.0 percent. Seven of their top 10 scorers per game are shooting over 40 percent from the three-point line, and an eighth, Reggie Jackson, barely missed inclusion in the group at 39.8 percent.
As most fans have come to learn, Williamson and Brandon Ingram are below average defenders at their respected positions and there’s not a team that gives up more made threes per game than New Orleans.
Like I said, don’t be fooled by the five-point difference in the box score from the first matchup earlier this season.
If you fell asleep early, you missed one hell of a performance by Nickeil Alexander-Walker:— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) January 14, 2021
37 points (career-high)
8 rebounds (career-high)
1 turnover (feels like a career-best)
100 FT% pic.twitter.com/pTJFRkoCHD
Although the Clippers limped into the All-Star break with four losses in five games, they demolished the Warriors in their first contest on the court since, winning 130-104.
Can New Orleans genuinely pull off the upset against one of the best teams in the league? Sure, we’ve witnessed victories over the Bucks, Suns and Jazz in roughly the last six weeks and Zion Williamson is one of the most explosive scorers in the league. But knocking off the Clippers will take another stellar offensive performance by the whole team — Nickeil Alexander-Walker scoring in the neighborhood of 37 points again would be huge to the cause — and a rarely seen staunch 48-minute defensive effort.
The Pelicans have not made things easy on themselves in dropping a lot of winnable games and not regularly beating below average opponents to date. The penalty: New Orleans currently trails Memphis and Golden State by three games for a potential berth to the 2021 NBA Play-In Tournament. Now the Pelicans must tackle the most difficult portion of the second half of the schedule when it’s high time to start making up ground in the standings.
It is what it is.
Who: New Orleans Pelicans (16-22) vs Los Angeles Clippers (25-14)
When: March 14, 8:00 p.m. Central
Where to watch: FSNOLA, ESPN
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 @OlehKosel.