Pelicans’ recipe for successful road trip involves beating Clippers tonight

Mar 25, 2023 - 1:39 PM
NBA: OCT 30 Pelicans at Clippers
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans are back inside the postseason picture.

Winning three straight games coupled with the Thunder, Mavericks and Jazz on recent slides has the Pelicans sitting in ninth place in the standings before the start of today’s action. With nine games left in the regular season and the Western Conference race remaining as tight as ever, this isn’t the time to relax, however.

Finding a way to win at least two of the four games on the current road trip would be ideal, so knocking off the Los Angeles Clippers tonight feels like a must as the next three matchups are against the Trail Blazers, Warriors and Nuggets.

The Pelicans should manage a win in Portland because Damian Lillard and company appear to have waved the white flag, but notching victories in San Francisco or Denver feel like the tallest of orders. The Warriors and Nuggets have been near unbeatable at home. Moreover, the matchup against Golden State will come on the second night of a back-to-back for New Orleans.

So first things first, beat L.A.

While the Clippers lost Paul George for the rest of the regular season on Tuesday to a right knee sprain, they beat the Thunder on Thursday quite handily, 127-105.

Kawhi Leonard has looked the part of a top 5 player in the league again, as evidenced by a 13-for-15 shooting performance in scoring 32 points against OKC, and he’s surrounded by a number of players who can make an impact: Terrance Mann, Eric Gordon, Ivica Zubac, Mason Plumlee, Nic Batum, Robert Covington, Bones Hyland and Russell Westbrook.

Yes, Russell Westbrook.

In watching the Clippers a few nights ago, it’s obvious that Westbrook has landed in the right spot. He not only looks to be having the most fun that he’s had in a long time — watching him stand on the sidelines, smiling and cheering for most of the second half — he’s also been quite productive (Clippers have a +5.0 net rating with him on the court versus off).

In addition to their multitude of drivers, shooters and just guys who play hard, the Clippers have the personnel to give Pelicans’ stars trouble.

Jonas Valanciunas will have a difficult time of matching his production over the last four games (20.5 points, 15.8 rebounds) against the tandem of Zubac and Plumlee. Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum will likely be guarded by Leonard and Mann for long stretches.

So, this matchup will probably require an unsung hero or two.

Trey Murphy finding the range from the outside would be a great boost, but he’s listed as questionable with left great toe irritation. Naji Marshall might be a good candidate after putting together a 16-4-3 line against the Hornets, yet my money is on Herb Jones and Larry Nance Jr.

Herb has been unusually quiet over the last few games, so he’s due, and he’s generally played well against the Clippers. Averages of 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds across four regular season games are nice, but the shooting splits (53.6 FG%, 37.5 3PT%, 83.3 FT%) look even better.

As for Nance, he hasn’t looked 100% since returning from a right ankle sprain, but I have a hunch that Willie Green may elect to go smaller more than usual as Valanciunas could have some struggles.

The Pelicans beat the Clippers in their lone appearance earlier on the schedule and enjoyed plenty of success last season (3-1 plus the play-in victory). Here’s to that trend continuing.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (36-37) at Los Angeles Clippers (39-35)

When: March 25, 9:30 p.m. CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

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.

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