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Fading Pelicans to face one of hottest teams in Clippers

New Orleans’ role players are going to have to step up

LA Clippers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Including Saturday’s loss to the Spurs, the New Orleans Pelicans play-in tournament hopes are hanging by a thread after tossing away victories in three of the last five games.

The Pelicans currently find themselves 4.5 games in back of both the Warriors and Spurs and only 12 contests remain on the schedule. After consistently sabotaging their chances of playing beyond the regular season since December, it’s difficult to picture a happy ending and the math agrees.

Based on its Raptor player ratings, the website FiveThirtyEight is giving just 2% odds of New Orleans advancing to the 2021 playoffs.

With nearly 17% of the season left, is there anything left to play for? You bet! While the roster has holes that will need to be addressed this summer, the young core can continue with individual development. As a team, learning to navigate closing minutes and other important moments within games remains high on the list. And let’s be blunt, there’s several players who are still auditioning for New Orleans ... or elsewhere.

Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, James Johnson and Willy Hernangomez are playing for new contracts, and despite his stellar play, Naji Marshall hasn’t signed on the dotted line of a new NBA deal yet.

On tap for tonight: the Clippers. The other team from L.A. is third in the West and sits just two games behind the Jazz for the top spot. Getting inside the top two has to be high on the Clips’ priority list and they’re trending that way.

The Clippers have won four games in a row and are winners in 11 of their last 12. The hot streak has been propelled by the most efficient offense of late, averaging 116.1 points on a 49.1 FG%, a 44.0 3PT% and an 81 FT%.

Over the same stretch, the Pelicans are close in the points department (114.9), but the shooting percentages pale in comparison (46.8 FG%, 30.9 3PT%, 72.7 FT%).

The biggest singular threat to New Orleans odds of winning is Paul George. He’s been on absolute fire (31.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 3.7 threes, 1.7 steals), resembling the stud who began this season. However, he’s had help.

Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson, Ivica Zubac, Luke Kennard, Nic Batum and Terrance Mann have filled their roles admirably and efficiently. L.A. has not skipped a beat despite the limited availabilities of Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverley and Serge Ibaka’s disappearance from the roster due to a bad back. (Incidentally, Ibaka’s last appearance came against the Pelicans last month.)

Asides Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram on offense and Naji Marshall’s hustle, what other positives can you pencil in for tonight from the Pelicans?

Here’s to a bounty of good potluck for a change.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (26-34) vs Los Angeles Clippers (43-19)

When: April 26, 7:00 p.m. Central

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans

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.