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Preview: Clippers Look to Gain Ground in Playoff Race vs. Pelicans

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The Clippers will look to keep their winning ways going in a potential shootout against the red-hot Pelicans.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture

In most years, a late-season game between a No. 4 seed and a No. 9 seed wouldn’t have massive playoff implications for both teams. Then again, this year hasn’t been at all like most years. Each of the top four teams in the Western Conference enters Tuesday with a winning streak of at least five games. That includes the Pelicans, winners of eight straight.

New Orleans has used that surge to get all the way up to the No. 4 spot in the conference, but they’re still at risk of falling out of the playoff picture altogether by season’s end. The Pels are still just two games up on the ninth-seeded Clippers, which means we’ve got quite the important game on our hands tonight.

The Clips have been seemingly nipping on the Nuggets’ heels forever. Denver gets a rather unfortunate easy matchup with the Mavericks tonight, so even if the Clippers pick up a win tonight they may still enter Wednesday on the outside looking in on the playoff picture. LAC does stand a chance of picking up some ground on the Thunder, though, as OKC will take on the Rockets and their 15-game unbeaten streak.

It’s also worth noting that the Clippers are tied in the loss column with the Wolves, Thunder and Nuggets. Minnesota has played four more games than the Clippers, OKC has played three more and Denver has played one more. The 10th-seeded Jazz, who are tied with the Clips with 34 wins, also have two more losses than LAC. There’s plenty of ground for the Clippers to make up here.

The Opponents

Things were prettay, prettay different the last time these teams met. The Clippers picked up a 112-103 victory in New Orleans in late January that wound up being the final game in a Clipper uniform for Blake Griffin. L.A. used a big second half - led by Griffin’s 27 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists - to storm back from a halftime deficit and earn a huge road win.

That was also the first game the Pels played without DeMarcus Cousins, who was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles in the prior outing. Things were wobbly there without Cousins for a while, but it’s safe to say they’ve righted the ship in recent days.

New Orleans has won eight straight thanks in large part to the ungodly play of Anthony Davis. The Western Conference Player of the Month for February has been unguardable. In 11 games last month, The Brow averaged 35.0 points, 13 rebounds and better than two blocks and steals per game. He’s obviously had to take more control of the offense without Boogie around, and he’s been up to the task.

Can he keep it going over the next month and into a potential playoff run? We’ll see. Davis hasn’t exactly been a beacon of durability in the past. He’s also played a Jimmy Butlerian 37 minutes or more in each of his last five games.

Pace of Play

This game checks in with an implied total of 236 points tonight, which is the highest mark I’ve seen in any NBA game so far this season. Since both teams lost their franchise big men in late January, the Pels and Clips have been two of the fastest-paced teams in the Association. They’ve also largely decided that defense is optional.

Since Cousins went down on January 28, the Pelicans have played at a pace of 106.02, which is the fastest in the league by a huge margin. The Suns are second during that span, way down at 103.56. To put that in perspective, the Lakers have played at the fastest season-long pace, 103.2.

Since Griffin was traded, the Clippers have played at the league’s fifth-fastest pace, 102.73. For the season, the Pels are now third, and the Clips are sixth in this category. To say tonight’s game will be a barnburner looks like an understatement. These teams like to get up and down like crazy.

Look at the insane string of shootouts in which the Pelicans have played. These are the final scores from each of their past eight games (all wins, of course): 138-128 (OT), 118-103, 139-117, 124-123, 123-121, 125-116, 121-116, 126-109.

I mean, that’s wild. The Pelicans haven’t scored fewer than 118 points in a game in almost a month, and they haven’t conceded fewer than 100 points in a single game since Cousins was lost. They’ve also already played seven overtime games this season.

The Clippers’ numbers haven’t been as gaudy, but they’re not far behind, either. Here are the last eight finals for LAC: 114-101, 129-119, 134-127, 128-117, 122-120, 105-92, 128-105, 123-120. These are scores straight outta the 1980s.

Bold take: Many points will be scored tonight.

The Fancy Table