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Game Preview: Los Angeles Clippers visit New Orleans to face Boogie-less Pelicans

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Injury-Ravaged Franchises Battle for Playoff Positioning in the West.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers (24-24) and New Orleans Pelicans (27-21) face off for the second time this season Sunday afternoon. The Pelicans won the first regular season contest between the two franchises with a 111-103 victory on November 11, 2017, and hold a 27-24 edge in the all-time regular season series between the teams.

Game Information

When: January 28, 2018, 1:00pm PST

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Louisiana.

How to Watch/Listen: Fox Prime Ticket; AM 570

Projected Starting Lineups

Clippers: Milos Teodosic, Tyrone Wallace, Wesley Johnson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan

Pelicans: Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Dante Cunningham, Anthony Davis

Injuries

Clippers: OUT: Jawun Evans (sore lower abdomen), Austin Rivers (ankle), Danilo Gallinari (partially torn glute), C.J. Williams (ankle), Patrick Beverley (knee)

Pelicans: OUT: Alexis Ajinca (Right Knee), Tony Allen (Left Fibula Fracture), DeMarcus Cousins (Left Achilles Rupture), Solomon Hill (Left Hamstring Tear), Frank Jackson (Right Foot Fracture)

The Big Picture

The Clippers snapped a three-game losing streak and returned to .500 Friday night, defeating the Memphis Grizzlies 109-100 on the road. However, the squad continues to be significantly impacted by injuries with Austin Rivers, Danilo Gallinari and Jawun Evans still out, and Patrick Beverley done for the season. The absence of Rivers and Evans has been particularly noticeable over the Clippers’ last 4 games; perimeter defense has been a disaster.

DeAndre Jordan will play in his third game back since missing five games due to an ankle injury. In the two games since his return, Jordan has scored 15 points and grabbed 9+ rebounds. He is averaging 11.9 points and 14.7 rebounds so far this season. His presence in the paint and rebounding ability will be essential to the Clippers as they try and lock down a playoff spot in the upcoming weeks. Let’s hope the trade rumors are just that ... rumors.

Lou Williams continues to impress, with all-star-level play. Williams led the Clippers in their victory over the Grizzlies, logging 40 points, 10 assists and 4 steals off the bench. Sweet Lou is the first bench player with at least 40 points and 10 assists in a game since former Milwaukee Buck Brian Winters on January 22, 1982. The performance also marked the fourth time this season Williams has scored 40 or more, and the second time he’s scored 40 or more as a reserve.

Williams is averaging an impressive team-best 23.6 points and 5.2 assists this season.

Blake Griffin is also playing very solid basketball right now; averaging 22.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game.

Tyrone Wallace (11.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists per game) has exhibited great confidence and contributed meaningfully in his 11 games since becoming a Clipper. With the exception of the Clippers’ game against Atlanta on January 8, Wallace has been utilized significantly, playing in excess of 30 minutes per game for Los Angeles.

Montrezl Harrell (8.7 points, 4 rebounds per game) and Wesley Johnson (7.1 points, 3.7 rebounds) have given the Clippers great minutes recently; hopefully that will continue. The lengthy Johnson has been particularly good on defense, averaging career highs in steals (1.2) and blocks (1.1).

Point guard Milos Teodosic has been heating up offensively as of late (although his defense has been horrendous). The Clippers’ oldest rookie scored a career-high 18 points in the team’s win over the Grizzlies and is averaging 9.5 points, 3 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game this season.

The Clippers will need all their offensive weapons, and to tighten up defensively, to pull off a necessary win against the Pelicans and move closer to securing a playoff berth. The Clippers currently sit in the ninth spot in the Western Conference standings. They are 1.5 games behind Denver for the eighth spot and 2.5 games behind Portland for the seventh spot. New Orleans sits three games ahead of the Clippers in the sixth spot.

The Antagonist

The Pelicans suffered a huge loss Friday night during their 115-113 win over the Houston Rockets. All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins suffered a ruptured left Achilles tendon and has been ruled out for the remainder of the season, the Pelicans announced Saturday.

Cousins had 15 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists before leaving the contest against the Rockets, recording his second triple-double in the past three games. This season, the 27-year-old was averaging 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game, and had hoped to make the first playoff appearance of his career.

Notably, Cousins had been slated to appear in the 2018 NBA All-Star Game, which will be played on Sunday, February 18 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. He has since been replaced by the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Paul George, causing Clippers fans and others across the league to again express their frustration over a Lou Williams snub. Even Sweet Lou himself weighed in.

Before losing Cousins, the Pelicans had been riding some strong momentum. The victory over the Rockets was New Orleans’ fourth straight win and seventh in their last eight games. How the Pelicans will fill the hole in their lineup left by Cousins has yet to be seen. The big man played a significant role in New Orleans’ November win against Los Angeles, scoring 35 points and snatching 15 rebounds. A viable option, and one I believe the Pelicans will exercise against the defensively-challenged Clippers, is to start Dante Cunningham in Boogie’s stead, utilizing a smaller, faster lineup.

The Clippers would be smart to keep an eye on Darius Miller; the Pelicans’ small forward has made multiple 3-pointers in each of this last five games, including a 6-of-10 effort against the Rockets. Anthony Davis is always a threat – with or without Cousins on the floor – averaging 26.5 points and 10.4 rebounds this season. Jrue Holiday also has the ability to go off, he’s averaging 18.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game.

Prediction

This will be a close one, but the Clippers will pull off the win with strong performances from Griffin, Jordan and Williams.