Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 7:30 PM PT
How to watch: Prime Ticket, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups:
Pelicans: Elfrid Payton – Jrue Holiday – E’Twaun Moore – Anthony Davis – Julius Randle
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Avery Bradley – Tobias Harris – Danilo Gallinari – Marcin Gortat
Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute Out (sore knee)
The Big Picture:
The Clippers’ 1-2 week has pushed them into a three-way tie for 5th place in the Western Conference with the Spurs and Rockets. Their starting lineup continues to struggle, putting them into holes against both the Nuggets and Pistons that the team was unable to surmount. While the Clippers are a couple games up on the 8th seed, the Jazz are closing fast, and the Clips are currently the shakiest team in the top-half of the West outside the LeBron-less Lakers. Their defense, in particular, remains a concern, and appears to be a problem without much a solution outside the return of Luc Mbah a Moute (which still does not seem imminent). The Clippers have a really tough week coming up, and a poor showing could drop them in the standings significantly.
The Pelicans are having a disappointing season, as their 20-23 record has them sitting at 12th in the West. However, they’ve dealt with injury problems of their own, and are now finally healthy with Nikola Mirotic and Elfrid Payton returning last week. Anthony Davis is putting together another monstrous, MVP-caliber season, while Jrue Holiday is a worthy sidekick. The Pelicans’ depth, however, has been an issue, especially at guard and wing. They’ve cycled through a handful of forwards in attempts to find a permanent solution, and have come up mostly blank. Still, the Pels are dangerous on any given night due to their top four of Davis, Holiday, Mirotic, and Julius Randle, especially for teams with weak big men rotations (cough Clippers cough).
- Starting lineup change?: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s minutes have been trending down of late, while Pat Beverley’s have correspondingly surged. Beverley’s return into the starting lineup seems destined to happen sooner or later, and it won’t be for Avery Bradley. Honestly, while I think Shai deserves to start over Bradley, I wonder if moving him back to the bench might not help him (and the team) at this point. Getting run with Lou and Trez could give him some easy looks and alleviate the pressures of starting, as well as getting him away from Bradley, who he’s a terrible fit with. Meanwhile, Beverley could help inject some energy and life into a slumping, porous starting unit. My only concern would be the impact such a move would have on Shai’s confidence and attitude, but if Beverley is going to get more minutes than Shai anyway, I’d rather Shai get them off the bench. The Beverley-Bradley duo has been really bad thus far this season, but a change of any kind could aid the Clippers at this point.
- Rubber match: The Clips-Pels season series is at 1-1 going into this game, making this contest the tiebreaker for playoff implications. Right now the Clippers are a fair bit ahead of the Pelicans in the standings, but lots of things could change over the next few months, and a potential battle between the two for a playoff spot is certainly possible. This is therefore a very important game for both teams, and it would be shocking if either squad came out lackadaisically.
- Wes Johnson Returns: This will be Wes Johnson’s first game in Staples against the Clippers since being traded in preseason to the Pelicans in exchange for Alexis Ajinca (who the Clippers then waived). Wes has only played in 24 games for the Pelicans despite starting in 13 of them, as he’s been nailed to the end of the bench in recent weeks. Wes played in 222 games for the Clippers in his three seasons with the team, starting 52 of them, and was highly valued for his locker room presence and positive attitude. It’s unlikely that the Clippers will do anything for him, but if you happen to be going to the game, give him a cheer if he checks in. Wes is a good guy.
- Containing Davis and Randle: Davis and Randle are the exact kind of big men who have given the Clippers fits this season. Big, tall, athletic, and skilled, the duo is a nightmare for the Clippers old or undersized frontline, and the Clippers’ centers will need to do everything in their power to contain the two tonight. After doubling Blake Griffin frequently on Saturday, and getting burned by it, the Clippers might not be quick to do so against the Pelicans. It will be interesting to see how the Clippers handle Davis and Randle in this one.
Check out The Bird Writes for the Pelicans perspective, and check back in for the game thread this evening!