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Clippers-Pelicans Preview: Nothing’s Easy

The Clippers head to New Orleans trying to avoid a four-game losing streak.

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

The Big Story:

As of the time of this writing, Chris Paul and JJ Redick are questionable to appear against the Pelicans, which raises many more questions. Can Jamal Crawford continue to score with relative efficiency? Can Austin Rivers run the offense without turning the ball over? Can DeAndre Jordan rediscover his defensive excellence? Can Doc Rivers avoid Paul Pierce’s siren song? Most importantly, with three of their four stars missing, can the Clippers win? If the answer is no, it will be their fourth loss in a row.

The Antagonist:

The Pelicans bookended the weekend with victories, earning just their second winning streak of the season and the first since they won four straight during the week prior to Thanksgiving. That’s a disappointment for a team that employs one of the world’s best players. Opinions on Anthony Davis differ, but the league’s second-leading scorer rates among the elite statistically. And that’s been the key question surrounding New Orleans’ basketball club for nearly a season and a half: How much is Davis’ fault? Head Coach Alvin Gentry has tabbed 10 different players to start. Complementary “stars” Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans have spent nearly as much time off the floor as on it. Again. Their floor spacing is cramped, their defense porous, and if recent rotation changes don’t pay dividends soon, they’ll face another season in the lottery. And with that the Pelicans and Davis will face another season of questions.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of Key Metrics: One of Mike Smith’s keys for the suddenly star-short Clippers has been to run. They’ve started on it, taking an extra possession and a half. The Pelicans, electing to make a lineup change by inserting Anthony Davis at center on Monday night, went against the typical benefits of small ball and slowed to a near crawl. In their win over Dallas they used nearly 10 fewer possessions than their season average.
  • The Schedule: Tonight’s game is the first of a brief three-game road trip. The Clippers hit Houston and Oklahoma City on a back-to-back beginning Friday.
  • Small Easy: As mentioned above, on Monday against Dallas, Coach Gentry made the long-awaited decision to start Anthony Davis at center without the plodding Omer Asik or Alexis Ajinca next to him. The early returns for the offensive spacing were good, as the Pelicans converted 53% of their shots and rang up on offensive rating of 124. Of course, that was against the Mavs, who are only just beginning to resemble an NBA team again. The Clippers, in their current predicament, hardly resemble one themselves, so the Pelicans will have another opportunity to keep the points coming.
  • Off-ense: Doc’s offense is down more than 10 points in efficiency with his three playmaking stars on ice. With less than ideal spacing, the Clippers never get good looks as easily as other elite offenses, but the combined brilliance of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin has served as a more than adequate salve. Now, Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, and Ray Felton assume the primary playmaking duties, and they have found the going to be very tough indeed. Opposing teams have snuffed out many of the current lineup’s Princeton-esque perimeter sets, so the Clippers should focus on creating downhill, although duh, it’s always easier said than done. During their second-half comeback against the Nuggets, Rivers’ attacking runs paired with improved cross-court passing to open lanes and looks for all involved. With margins shrunk to near nothingness, the Clippers will have to maintain note-perfection for longer stretches.
  • For the Pelicans’ point of view, head over to The Bird Writes.