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Pelicans aim to continue soaring to greater heights in matchup against Clippers

New Orleans’ recent clutch and home records are good sources of optimism

Minnesota Timberwolves v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans will look to take advantage of a wounded Los Angeles Clippers team on their home floor Thursday evening.

Tyronn Lue’s squad has been without Kawhi Leonard (torn right ACL) for the entire season to date and Paul George (torn right UCL) has missed 15 of L.A.’s past 17 contests.

The Clippers are 7-9 this season when they’ve been without both stars.

That mark is a tribute to the rest of their roster and coaching staff, but one wonders how much longer they’ll be able to stay afloat. There’s indications that neither star could return this season, per Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer.

While the team’s initial announcement on Christmas Day stated George would be re-evaluated in 3-4 weeks, the Clippers are operating under the possibility that George may not return this season, sources told B/R. And despite the momentum surrounding Kawhi Leonard’s rehab from a torn ACL, there remains a healthy dose of skepticism around the league about Leonard retaking the floor in 2021-22 as well.

The biggest takeaway here ahead of tonight’s matchup in New Orleans is, none of this matters.

Until L.A.’s front office has sold off an important part or two, Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris, Terrence Mann and the rest of the healthy Clippers will fight like hell to keep notching victories. Expect that to be fully the case against the Pelicans — but also count on their task not being an easy one.

While an overall record of 9-11 at home doesn’t particularly stand out, the Pelicans have won six of their last eight inside the Smoothie King Center.

With a 12-10 record in their last 22 games, New Orleans is undoubtedly coming together after beginning the season 3-16. The players are trusting each other and the coaches more and more, and the results are beginning to show, especially in clutch minutes.

After getting out of the gates this campaign with eight straight losses in contests where the difference in the score was five points or less at any point during the last five minutes of regulation, the Pelicans have won 7 of 11 in such games. A highly efficient offense has been key to this turnaround.

Since November 24, the Pelicans have the sixth-most effective clutch offense in the league, knocking down shots from everywhere on the floor at a fantastic clip (49.4 FG%, 52.9 3PT%, 85.7 FT%).

The exploits of Brandon Ingram in Tuesday’s win over the Timberwolves are fresh in all minds, but did you know that the seven most trusted players are currently shooting the ball from well to superbly in clutch minutes?

Player FG% 3PT% FT%
Brandon Ingram 47.4% 60.0% 75.0%
Jonas Valanciunas 44.4% N/A 100%
Josh Hart 66.7% 66.7% 83.3%
Herbert Jones 53.8% 50.0% 87.5%
Devonte' Graham 43.5% 47.4% 90.0%
Nickeil Alexander-Walker 50.0% 50.0% N/A
Garrett Temple 66.7% 66.7% N/A

A small sample size argument can be had, with the recent 7-4 run in clutch games having occurred in only 51 minutes, but it feels like a real step for the New Orleans organization. This rings especially true when looking at all the prior results of close contests during the David Griffin era.

The Pelicans won just 30 of 80 games in clutch minutes the previous two seasons. The team’s offensive struggles were incredibly frequent, as evidenced by the eighth-worst true shooting percentage last season and the second-worst TS% in the campaign before that.

So, don’t overlook this current stretch by the Pelicans. From the last 22 games overall to the clutch record within the same time span to the home record in the past eight contests.

There’s signs of growth everywhere.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (15-26) vs Los Angeles Clippers (21-21)

When: January 13, 2022, 7:00 pm

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA 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 @OlehKosel.