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Clippers-Pelicans Preview: Looking For a Perfect Trip

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On a four game winning streak, the Clippers close their 5-game road trip tonight in Louisiana, searching for perfection against the Pelicans.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
2015-16 NBA Regular Season
496226812014_medium
@
New Orleans Pelicans (10-21)

Los Angeles Clippers (20-13)
December 31, 2015 — 5:00 PM PDT
Smoothie King Center -- New Orleans, LA
Prime Ticket, The Beast 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown ('15-'16)
10-21 Record 20-13
2-9 East 8-3
8-12 West 12-10
3-3 Division 4-3
7-6 Home 10-6
3-15 Road 10-7
3-14 .500+ 6-8
7-7 .500– 14-5
1-1 OT 1-0
5-5 L10 7-3
Projected Starters
Tyreke Evans PG Chris Paul
Eric Gordon SG J.J. Redick
Alonzo Gee SF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Anthony Davis PF Paul Pierce
Omer Asik C DeAndre Jordan
Efficiency Stats ('15-'16)
98.69 (13th) Pace 98.54 (14th)
102.5 (14th) OffRtg 104.7 (4th)
107.9 (29th) DefRtg 101.7 (14th)
-5.4 (26th) NetRtg 3.1 (10th)
Injury Report
Quincy Pondexter (knee) out
Blake Griffin (torn quad tendon) out
'15-'16 Season Series (Clippers lead 1-0)
Date
Venue
Final
Clips Nation Recap
NBA Box Score
11/27/2015
Los Angeles
Clippers 111, Pelicans 90
Recap
Box Score
1/10/2016
Los Angeles
TBD


3/20/2016
New Orleans
TBD


The Big Picture:

The Clippers have won their last 4 games, and they're closing the road trip against one of the worst teams record-wise in the league: the Pelicans.  When these teams last met, the Clippers entered the contest 7-8; since then, they're 13-5, now sitting in 4th place in the Western Conference, three losses out of 3rd.  L.A. has built this winning streak on the backs of lesser opponents, defeating three under .500 teams and a Hornets squad depleted by injuries.  Next up: @ New Orleans (10-21), Philadelphia (3-31), @ Portland (14-20), Charlotte (17-14) again, New Orleans (10-21) again, Miami (18-13), Sacramento (12-20), and Houston (16-17).  After this game in New Orleans, there's only one back-to-back in that stretch, and both games are at home.  In other words: a good stretch is coming up for the Clippers to build momentum and rattle off wins while Blake Griffin is out.

The Antagonist:

Despite high expectations for a playoff berth and an MVP-caliber season for Anthony Davis, the Pellies find themselves near the bottom of the Western Conference after a slow start has stretched past 30 games, leaving them at 10-21 after finishing last season 45-37.  Anthony Davis has been very good (23.5 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 1.5 apg, 2.7 bpg), but when expectations get so high that people are expecting a 22-year-old to be the best player in basketball, very good can be disappointing.  Gee, who saw that coming? The Pelicans are still only 4 losses out of 8th place in a Western Conference with a lot of struggling teams, but they'll need to step up their game in order to pass the 6 teams that stand between them and 8th place.

Subplots:

  • Match-ups: The Clippers have played Paul Pierce in place of the injured Blake Griffin, which leaves them small--very small.  The last few games, the Clippers have faced teams that play small power forwards, allowing Pierce to get away with being severely undersized.  Tonight, they'll have no such luck: Anthony Davis is one of the best PFs in the game, and he's tall and lanky.  Paul Pierce clearly isn't the guy to guard the young All-Star, but who is?  The Clippers could cross-match, playing Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (Doc's stopper of choice) against Davis, and having Paul Pierce guard Alonzo Gee (a non-threat offensively).  They could also opt to go with a bigger lineup, starting Josh Smith.
  • Elite PFs: The battle for NBA PF supremacy is pretty squarely between Blake Griffin and Anthony Davis.  Davis is the better shooter, Griffin is better around the basket.  Davis is the clearly superior help-side defender, Griffin is a far better facilitator.  Both are superstars and their matchups are always going to be a lot of fun--but we won't get to see them go head-to head tonight, unfortunately, and Blake Griffin will most likely miss the next matchup between the two teams as well.
  • Eric Gordon and Chris Paul: Eric Gordon was the main asset that the Clippers sent to New Orleans in exchange for Chris Paul in 2011.  Since then, the other players involved (Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman) have left New Orleans, and Minnesota's coveted draft pick yielded Austin Rivers, who flared out for the Pelicans and has now had somewhat of a resurgence on the Clippers.  Eric Gordon, after batting injuries for the last few years, is having a solid season for the Pelicans, averaging 16 points and connecting on 37% of his shots from deep.
  • Pablo Prigioni and Cole Aldrich: When the Clippers started the season, they played a 10-man rotation, with Pablo Prigioni, Cole Aldrich, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute as the benchwarmers.  Now, 30 games in, Mbah a Moute is starting at SF, and Prigioni and Aldrich are emerging as the key players on the bench.  The Prigioni-Aldrich pick-and-roll has been exceptional in the few games the two have played together, with Pablo making excellent reads and Aldrich doing a surprisingly good job of finding shooters on the weak side when the defense collapses.  In the last 5 games, Prigioni has averaged 15.2 minutes, recording 2.4 points, 2.2 assists, 1.6 rebounds, and .8 steals while shooting 71% from the field and 50% from deep (while shooting very selectively).  Aldrich has averaged 6.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 blocks, and 2 steals in 14.4 minutes during that same span.
  • Bench Mob? With Doc's recent decision to play Aldrich over Josh Smith, and Blake Griffin's injury, we've gotten a chance to see a new bench unit in recent games.  I know it's a VERY, VERY small sample size, and things could easily turn for the worse, but so far the unit featuring Prigioni-Rivers-Crawford-Johnson-Aldrich has a Net Rating of 34.5.  That's totally unsustainable long-term, but it shows how well they've played in the last couple of games.  The numbers will come back down to earth, but if that lineup can consistently provide a sustainable level of quality play, they'll be able to do the job that the Clippers need from their bench: hold and extend leads while the starters rest.  I'm not taking this stretch as proof that this unit is the answer long-term, but the short-term success has me excited to see what they can do in the coming games.