Pelicans shootaround update: Defensive improvement began in win over Clippers
New Orleans’ defense has been so vastly improved lately that even after Utah piled up 127 points and shot an absurd 20/35 from three-point range Saturday, the Pelicans still have a top-five ‘D’ over the past 10 days. That recent turnaround began Nov. 19, when New Orleans played by far its best defensive game of 2021-22, limiting the Clippers to 81 points, including just 26 in the second half.
The Pelicans ranked 30th in the NBA defensively prior to beating LA in the Smoothie King Center, but over their past six games have given up 104.5 points per 100 possessions (via NBA.com), resulting in a 3-3 record and victories over the Clippers, Washington and Utah. The only defenses that have performed better since Nov. 19 are Milwaukee (98.8), Golden State (101.2), Clippers (102.0) and Indiana (103.8).
“Great energy,” Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas said of the keys to improvement at that end of the floor. “Great defensive urgency. Covering for each other, helping each other. Everybody in their spots at the right time. More of that, that’s what we’re seeking to get.”
The Clippers’ 81-point output Nov. 19 was an anomaly for a team with a perennial All-Star forward in Paul George and numerous other accomplished perimeter shooters, but the Pacific Division squad is also in a bit of a slump offensively. Over the same 10-day timeframe, LA ranks last in the NBA in offensive efficiency, managing just 98.0 points per 100 possessions while going 2-3.
New Orleans is coming off an 8/35 three-point shooting performance in Saturday’s loss at Utah, continuing a season-long trend. The Pelicans are 0-7 when they do not sink double-digit treys and 2-14 when their opponent connects on at least 10. New Orleans drained 12 and 11 trifectas, respectively, in Week 6 triumphs over Washington and Utah. The Pelicans also were 13/30 on Nov. 19 in beating the Clippers.
LA CLIPPERS SCOUTING REPORT
Offensive efficiency rank: 25 (104.4)
Defensive efficiency rank: 2 (102.2)
Net rating: 9 (+2.2)
Pace: 8 (100.8)
Streak: Lost 1
Go-to guy: With Kawhi Leonard sidelined indefinitely this season, there’s no doubt where the Clippers prefer the ball to go when they need a big basket. Paul George’s 8/26 shooting night Nov. 19 in the Smoothie King Center was emblematic of a game in which the Clippers misfired frequently, but George’s scoring average of 25.9 points is his most since 2018-19, when he put up 28.0 for Oklahoma City. His early-season shooting percentages (43 from the field, 33 on treys) are below his career norms, but LA is asking the 12-year pro to carry the attack sans Leonard.
On the rise: A breakout performer during the 2021 playoffs, highlighted by a 39-point eruption in a conference semifinal series-clinching victory vs. Utah, Terance Mann is averaging career highs in scoring (9.7 ppg) and rebounding (4.9 rpg). Despite coming off the bench in all 19 of his appearances this season, the Florida State product averages 28.4 minutes, ranking fourth on the LA roster (tied with Eric Bledsoe). The Clippers are 7-2 when Mann provides double-digit scoring, including 3-0 vs. Minnesota.
PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS
NEW ORLEANS (5-17)
Saturday loss at Utah
Devonte’ Graham, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Herbert Jones, Jonas Valanciunas
Notes: This group is 2-1, the only New Orleans combination with a plus-.500 record. A lineup with Tomas Satoransky and Nickeil Alexander-Walker at the guard spots, joined by Hart, Ingram and Valanciunas, is 1-1. … Eight different Pelicans have started this season, with all eight of those players making at least three starts. … Among players with zero starts, Trey Murphy III (15.5) leads New Orleans in minutes average, followed by Kira Lewis Jr. (14.8).
LA CLIPPERS (11-9)
Sunday loss vs. Golden State
Reggie Jackson, Eric Bledsoe, Paul George, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac
Notes: This group is 1-4, with a win over Detroit, but losses to Golden State (twice), Memphis and Dallas. It was together for the first two games of the season, as well as the three most recent contests. … The Clippers have only used three different starting lineups this season, with its most common going 9-4. Nicolas Batum is part of that group, making 13 starts this season, but Batum (health and safety protocols) is reportedly out until at least Dec. 1. Jackson, Bledsoe, George and Zubac have been in the starting five for all 20 games.
FANDUEL KEYS TO THE GAME
MORE LOCKDOWN DEFENSE
If there were a way for New Orleans to bottle what it did defensively in the previous meeting with the Clippers, it certainly would. LA’s 81 points Nov. 19 are 15 fewer than any other New Orleans opponent has tallied vs. the Pelicans this season.
En route to outrebounding the Clippers 55-43 on Nov. 19, Valanciunas (13 total rebounds), Ingram (12) and Hart (10) all grabbed double-digit boards. That trio also combined for eight of 12 offensive rebounds for the Pelicans.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Graham did not play Nov. 19 against LA while sidelined with left foot soreness. The challenge for he and the rest of NOLA’s backcourt is to try to somewhat replicate holding the Clippers’ starting guards of Jackson and Bledsoe on Nov. 19 to 5/21 shooting (0/6 on threes).