Lonzo Ball dribbles against Clippers guard Lou Williams

Behind the Numbers presented by Entergy: Pelicans at Clippers (1/13/21)

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

A look at three key numbers related to Wednesday’s game at Staples Center between New Orleans and Los Angeles (9 p.m. Central, Fox Sports New Orleans, ESPN, 100.3 FM):

0: Games New Orleans (4-5) has been forced to veer from its planned 2020-21 starting lineup of Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson at the forward spots and Steven Adams at center. That will change Wednesday, because Ball has already been ruled out of action due to bilateral knee tendinopathy (UPDATE at 3 p.m. Wednesday: Williamson is now also out due to health and safety protocols). Ball experienced one stretch last season of starting 41 consecutive games for the Pelicans, prior to sitting out the Aug. 13 bubble finale vs. the Orlando Magic, meaning he has appeared in 50 of the last 51 New Orleans regular season games. The Pelicans will have to compensate Wednesday for being without their third-leading scorer (12.4 ppg), second-leading passer (4.4 apg) and fifth-leading rebounder (4.3 rpg).

101.0, 113.5: Defensive rating for New Orleans in December and January, respectively, meaning the Pelicans have allowed 12.5 more points per 100 possessions since the calendar flipped to 2021 (stat via NBA.com). Stan Van Gundy has recently discussed how his team came out of training camp with a defensive mindset and mentality, but there was slippage at that end of the floor during a four-game homestand vs. Toronto, Indiana, Oklahoma City and Charlotte. New Orleans ranked fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency last month, but is just 23rd in January. Not coincidentally, the Pelicans went 3-2 in December, but have started January at 1-3. The Clippers are the NBA’s sixth-best offensive team in January (115.2 rating) and rank third (114.4) overall, behind only Milwaukee and Denver.

3-1: New Orleans record in its last four games at Staples Center against the Clippers, including an April 2018 victory that clinched a Western Conference playoff berth for the Pelicans. New Orleans did technically go 0-2 last season on the road against the Clips, but one of those “away games” was a July 30 meeting during the NBA restart in Orlando. Despite going 30-42 overall last season, the Pelicans were rarely on the wrong side of a blowout, but the Clippers handed them two of those forgettable defeats, by margins of 25 and 23 points. The two Clippers-Pelicans matchups in the Smoothie King Center last season were high-scoring thrillers, with the hosts prevailing in the first by a 132-127 count, then losing 133-130 in a mid-January Saturday afternoon game that was broadcast nationally by ABC.

Previous game starting lineups

NEW ORLEANS (4-5)

Friday loss vs. Charlotte

Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams

Notes: Wednesday’s game at Staples Center will mark the first time the Pelicans do not have this starting group, due to Ball and Williamson being sidelined. … By comparison, the 2019-20 Pelicans used 23 different starting lineups over their 72 regular season games.

LA CLIPPERS (7-4)

Sunday win vs. Chicago

Patrick Beverley, Nicolas Batum, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka

Notes: The Clippers have used three different starting lineups through 11 games, with this combination being by far the most common. It has gone 6-2 in eight games. … Beyond this quintet, wing Luke Kennard has started three times, replacing Leonard twice and George once.

Pelicans Keys To Victory

POINT GUARD ADJUSTMENT

Ball is second on the Pelicans in playing time this season, meaning New Orleans will have to replace his 33 minutes per game with a different player (or a combination of players). That could mean shifting Bledsoe over to the “1” position, but Bledsoe is also on the injury report, listed as questionable. Other PG options might include Nickeil Alexander-Walker (14.7 mpg) and Kira Lewis (total of 13 minutes in two appearances).

PELICANS VS. WINGS

The Clippers’ biggest strength is their ability to attack defenses with two of the NBA’s premier scorers, George (25.0 ppg this season) and Leonard (24.4), who predominantly play the wing positions of shooting guard and small forward. They’re also both excellent defenders, combining for 3.2 steals and 1.0 block. George is a 38 percent career three-point shooter and a hair under 40 percent from distance in his 21 total games vs. New Orleans.

MISTAKE-FREE AGAINST LAC

This would be an emphasis right now for New Orleans against any opponent, because the Pelicans are third-to-last in the league in turnover percentage (16.6, ahead of only Miami and Chicago). However, it’s an even greater priority vs. the Clippers, who rank eighth in the percentage of their points they score as a result of creating turnovers (16.9). Leonard (team-best 1.8 spg), George Batum, Lou Williams, Patrick Patterson, Reggie Jackson and Beverley all average at least 1.0 steal.

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