To avoid the play-in tournament or maintain home field advantage for a first-round series, the Clippers need a big finish to the regular season.
Starts like the one that led to the 131-110 loss on Saturday will make that more difficult.
The Clippers trailed the New Orleans Pelicans at Crypto.com Arena by eight within two minutes before most fans took their seats.
Two minutes into the second quarter, their 11-point deficit had grown to 19.
A little over four minutes into the third, their 12-point deficit had risen to 18.
With the tension gone, the second half turned the attention to what was happening backstage. Clippers star Kawhi Leonard went into the dressing room with four minutes left in the third quarter after being elbowed in the face by Pelicans wing Brandon Ingram. The team leaders quickly left their seats to follow Leonard through the arena tunnel.
Leonard suffered a bruise on his face and did not return. Not that it was necessary. The Clippers were routed so thoroughly that coach Tyronn Lue called on the team’s G-League reserves with eight minutes remaining.
Time and time again, the Pelicans’ best shooters found open shots, converting 21 of 34 three-point attempts.
Time and time again, the Clippers have never been able to exert enough pressure to change that — an ominous sign for a critical week when they face Western Conference opponents in three of their next four games as they battle for the playoff spot.
“It’s tough digging a hole and trying to climb out every night,” Lue said. “We have to start the games better. … Tonight we just didn’t have much juice and much pop. Nothing to get discouraged about, we just need to get a little bit better.”
The Clippers are 39-36 and left the night in fifth place in the West after entering them fourth. The loss was felt for days. Not only is Leonard’s timeline for a return unclear, but the loss gave New Orleans the straight tiebreak (37-37).
A game after making 13 of 15 shots in a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Leonard missed all six of his three-point shots and made just four of 16 shots for 12 points. Russell Westbrook made four of 12 shots for 14 points. Reserve Bones Hyland posted a game high of 18.
Hours before the tip, there was a sign of optimism when injured guard Norman Powell, who has been sidelined since March 2, posted a collection of photos of him in practice against various levels of contact on Instagram.
But Powell isn’t expected to be back until Monday’s next game against the Chicago Bulls. Of course, Paul George will not be on the pitch anytime soon because of a sprained right knee. Now there is Leonard.
But if there was an opponent with zero sympathy for the Clippers’ injury woes, it’s New Orleans.
Star striker Zion Williamson has been sidelined since January 2 with an Achilles tendon. Guard Jose Alvarado has not played since February 27 due to a shin sprain. And although Saturday the 74thth Game for New Orleans, it was Brandon Ingram’s 37th.
So, of most concern for the Clippers was that New Orleans didn’t need their full player count to take control on Saturday.
They only needed two.
Ingram and Trey Murphy each scored 32 points. Murphy said he heard the Clippers’ bench “chirp” before his first three, then added nine more.
Ingram made three baskets in New Orleans’ first five games, taking advantage of the Clippers’ inability to keep up in substitutions. Trying to double-unite Ingram, they lost sight of Murphy for four three-pointers in the first quarter.
By the end of the first quarter, the Pelicans were leading with nine of their 11 threes by 11 points, and the combination of Ingram and Murphy’s 26 points equaled the Clippers’ total. It was the second straight game since the revised starting line-up, which was missing George, went from behind instead of from an advantage in the first quarter. But where reserves like Hyland and Terance Mann brought energy and pace that kick-started Thursday’s first-quarter comeback, the impact of their substitutions was immediately undermined by turnovers. The Clippers signed 20, which turned into 28 New Orleans points.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/clippers/story/2023-03-25/clippers-pelicans-blowout-loss-nba-recap Clippers’ big loss to Pelicans complicates NBA playoff picture