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Preview: Clippers look to end road trip in style against Pelicans

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Following a surprisingly dominant showing against the Cavs, the Clips will try to make it two in a row tonight in New Orleans.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture

This will be the Clips’ third game in four nights and the final stop on what’s been a lengthy road swing. No matter how trash the Pelicans are, they seem to annually have a game against the Clippers in New Orleans in which they’ll inexplicably look like the showtime Lakers. LAC could lose this game after a stellar effort in Cleveland a night ago, and it wouldn’t be shocking.

The Clips looked terrible in Detroit, Indiana and Brooklyn, but it was way too early in the season for any sort of panic. It was also way too early to anoint the Clippers as Western Conference favorites when they were steamrolling fools to a 14-2 record. A lot happens over the course of an 82 game schedule. With the exception of the 2015-16 Warriors - who eventually blew a 3-1 lead and lost the NBA Finals at least in part because they foolishly chased regular season glory - teams go through lulls. The Clippers were lulling themselves until bursting to life brilliantly last night against the defending champs.

After slagging their way through a few games, LAC kicked back into gear against the Cavs. Blake Griffin was facilitating, J.J. Redick was drilling everything, DeAndre Jordan was crashing the glass and Chris Paul was doing a little bit of everything. Even Alan Anderson played! It was truly a night to behold.

LAC’s defense was always going to slip back down to earth after their blistering start. Teams just don’t post season-long defensive ratings under 90. However, they’re still in the top-five in both offense and defense. Only Utah, Chicago and Golden State even rank in the top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Holding the Cavaliers to just 94 points on their own floor is no small feat.

BREAKING: The Clippers are still great.

The Antagonist

These Pels got off to an even worse start than last season’s iteration, and the 2015-16 club started 0-6. That would be impressive if it wasn’t so damn sad. On the bright side, it looks like they’re starting to turn the ship around. New Orleans is only 7-12 on the year, but they started a woeful 0-8.

Jrue Holiday recently returned to the lineup after missing the first several weeks as he cared for his ailing wife. He’s still rounding into game shape, but the Pelicans’ turnaround coincides almost perfectly with his arrival. They’re 5-2 during that stretch with impressive wins over the Trail Blazers, Hornets, Hawks and Lakers. Yes, a win over the Lakers these days is at least somewhat impressive, especially considering they walloped LAL by 17 points.

The Pels’ roster is a weird hodgepodge that looks like a cast of ill-fitting parts, but they’ve been able to make it work of late. Outside of Holiday and Anthony Davis it’s really just a bunch of dudes. Terrence Jones? Tim Frazier? Solo Hill? E’Twaun Moore? Langston Galloway?

Buddy Hield is a recognizable name, but he’s been exiled from the regular rotation since Holiday came back. Old friend Lance Stephenson was here, too, but was waived in early November after suffering a groin injury. Tyreke Evans, who hasn’t played all year, was supposed to return tonight, but it’s looking like he’ll remain sidelined.

New Orleans has been able to cobble together a coherent defense, as they a respectable 11th in defensive rating (102.2). They’ve made a leap since Holiday’s return, as the team boasts a stout DRTG of 91.1 with him on the floor. Without him, that plummets to 105. Alvin Gentry reinserted Jrue into the starting lineup in the last game, presumably to stay.

The Pelicans are 6-7 against teams with winning records, but an inexplicable 1-5 against the dregs of the league. That’s what we call playing up and down to your competition. In other words, they’re the opposite of the Blazers.

The complementary parts have been helpful, but we know the Pels begin and end with The Brow. People were down on Anthony Davis after a stream of injuries derailed him last season, but he’s wasted no time in reminding people that he belongs in the conversation for “best basketball player on the planet.” Everybody’s fawning over Russell Westbrook’s numbers, but Davis is quietly averaging an absurd 32.1 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and nearly two steals in better than 37 minutes per game. He’s also shooting over 51 percent from the floor, and not all of those shots are coming right around the bucket:

In short, he is already a terrifyingly great player that is still improving. Stopping him isn’t a realistic option, but he’ll obviously be the focal point for the Clippers defensively.

Chris Paul’s Revenge

Chris Paul was never a Pelican, but he was a New Orleans Hornet for the first six years of his career. He’s only played eight games at the impeccably named Smoothie King Center as an opponent since joining LAC, but he’s really struggled. In just under 35 minutes a night, CP3 has averaged 15.9 points and 11.1 assists on brutal 33.6 percent shooting from the floor and 22.9 percent shooting from long range. He shot 3-for-18 in a game there last year and had another game a few years back in which he missed all 13 of his attempts.

The only viable explanation for Paul’s awful offensive play over the years in that building is that a jilted Pels fan put some sort of voodoo curse on him when he forced his way to L.A. That’s definitely it.

There’s always the chance CP3 could sit this game out in order to rest at the end of the long road trip and on the second night of a back-to-back. In that case, the revenge focus would fall squarely on to Austin Rivers. Either way, vengeance will be had.

The Fancy Table

Game Day Song of Choice

New Orleans, of course, is known to have a robust music scene. There’s a reason their basketball team used to be called the Jazz, after all. We typically go with rock and/or roll in this space, though, so let’s find a few bands from Louisiana.

I’m guessing Neutral Milk Hotel drew their name out of a hat. Kinda like Jimmy Eat World. They were a thing in the 90s and formed in Ruston, Louisiana...wherever that is. Anyway, here’s a song:

Win Butler of Arcade Fire fame also lives in New Orleans and has been known to attend a Pelicans game or two during the season. He was even named the MVP of the All-Star Celebrity Game in Toronto last February, which I’m sure is the highest honor he’s ever received in any capacity:

That’s some good stuff! We’re on a back-to-back here, so we’ll need some extra pep:

The Clips and Pels will tip things off from Smoothie King Center at 5pm Pacific. You can watch the game on Prime Ticket and come chat about it with us in the GameThread.