<script async src="https://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js?client=ca-pub-1244273282732907" crossorigin="anonymous"> Clippers' big loss to Pelicans complicates NBA playoff picture - usanewsmart
Clippers’ big loss to Pelicans complicates NBA playoff picture

Clippers’ big loss to Pelicans complicates NBA playoff picture

To avoid the play-in tournament or hold onto home-court advantage for a first-round series, the Clippers need a big finish to the regular season.

Starts like Saturday’s will make that more difficult to achieve.

Facing the New Orleans Pelicans at Crypto.com Arena, the Clippers trailed by eight within two minutes, before most fans had taken their seats.

Two minutes into the second quarter, their 11-point deficit had grown to 19.

Barely more than four minutes into the third quarter, their 12-point deficit was up to 18.

With the suspense all but sucked out of what was happening on the court in an eventual 131-110 loss, the attention during the second half turned toward what was happening off stage. Elbowed in the face by Pelicans wing Brandon Ingram, Clippers star Kawhi Leonard left for the locker room with four minutes left in the third quarter, with team executives quickly leaving their seats to follow him down the arena tunnel.

Leonard suffered a facial bruise, according to the team, and did not return. Not that there was any need. The Clippers were so thoroughly routed that coach Tyronn Lue inserted the team’s G League reserves with eight minutes left.

Again and again, the Pelicans’ best shooters found and made open shots.

Again and again, the Clippers could never apply enough pressure to change that — an ominous sign for a critical week ahead as they face Western Conference opponents in three of their next four games as they jockey for playoff position.

The Clippers are now 39-36, tied with the Golden State Warriors but good for fifth in the West. The loss could be felt for days not only because of Leonard’s unclear timeline for a return but the fact it clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker for New Orleans (37-37), which looms one game behind in the loss column.

Clippers guard Terance Mann, right, tries to shoot in front of New Orleans Pelicans forward Naji Marshall.

Clippers guard Terance Mann, right, tries to shoot in front of New Orleans Pelicans forward Naji Marshall during the first half Saturday.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

One game after making 13 of 15 shots to will the Clippers to a victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Leonard missed all six of his three-pointattempts and made only four of 16 shots for 12 points. Russell Westbrook was four of 12, for 14 points.

Hours before tipoff, there was a modest sign of optimism when guard Norman Powell, sidelined by an injury to his left, non-shooting, shoulder since March 2, posted to Instagram a collection of photos from practice against various levels of contact.

But Powell isn’t expected to be back by the next game, Monday against the Chicago Bulls. Paul George, of course, also won’t be on the court anytime soon because of a sprained right knee. Then there is Leonard.

But if there were any opponent to have zero sympathy for the Clippers’ injury woes, it is New Orleans.

A hamstring has sidelined star forward Zion Williamson since Jan. 2. Guard Jose Alvarado hasn’t played since Feb. 27 because of a tibia injury. And though Saturday was the 74th game for New Orleans, it was Brandon Ingram’s 37th.

Most concerning for the Clippers, then, was that New Orleans did not need its full complement of players to take control Saturday.

They needed only two.

Ingram and Trey Murphy each scored 32 points. Murphy made 10 three-pointers, five fewer than the Clippers.

By the first quarter’s end, the Pelicans had made nine of their 11 three-pointers to lead by 11, and the combination of Ingram and Murphy’s 26 points equaled the Clippers’ total. It was the second consecutive game since the revamped starting lineup missing George created a first-quarter deficit instead of an advantage. But where reserves such as guards Bones Hyland and Terance Mann infused energy and pace that jump-started Thursday’s first-quarter comeback, their impact didn’t translate Saturday.

When the Clippers pulled to within 10 midway through the second and Lue implemented a small lineup, a group of fans behind the basket nearest the team bench began a loud “We want Ro-Co” chant, pleading for Lue to insert little-used forward Robert Covington. Covington did not come in for Marcus Morris Sr. until four minutes remained in the third quarter and the Clippers down 19.

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