Clippers’ blowout loss to Pelicans is an ominous sign ahead of the critical week

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, left, shoots while New Orleans Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr.

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (left) shoots in front of New Orleans Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. during the first half of the Clippers’ 131-110 loss Saturday at Arena. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

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 on Saturday will make that more difficult.

The Clippers trailed the New Orleans Pelicans at 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.

Just over four minutes into the third quarter, their 12-point deficit had increased to 18.

With the tension all but drained from what was happening on the pitch in an eventual 131-110 loss, the second half turned attention to what was happening backstage. Elbowed in the face by Pelicans wing Brandon Ingram, Clippers star Kawhi Leonard went into the dressing room in the third quarter with four minutes left, with team leaders quickly leaving their seats to follow him through the arena tunnel.

Leonard suffered a bruise on his face and did not return, according to the team. 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.

Again and again, the Pelicans’ best marksmen found and fired open shots.

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.

The Clippers are now 39-36, level on points with the Golden State Warriors but good for fifth place in the West. The loss was felt for days, not only because of Leonard’s unclear timeline for a return, but also because of the fact that he scored the head-to-head tiebreak for New Orleans (37-37), who are a game behind in the loss column .

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

Clippers guard Terance Mann (right) attempts to shoot in front of New Orleans Pelicans forward Naji Marshall during the first half of Saturday. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

A game after making 13 of 15 shots to lead the Clippers to a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Leonard missed all six of his three-point attempts and made just four of 16 shots for 12 points. Russell Westbrook was four of 12, for 14 points.

Hours before the tip, there was a modest sign of optimism when guard Norman Powell, who has been sidelined since March 2 with an injury to his left non-shooting shoulder, posted to Instagram a collection of photos from training against various levels of contact .

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. Then there’s Leonard.

But if there’s one opponent who doesn’t understand 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 was New Orleans’ 74th game, 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 made 10 threes, five fewer than the Clippers.

By the end of the first quarter, the Pelicans had taken nine of their 11 threes to 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 guards Bones Hyland and Terance Mann brought energy and pace that kick-started Thursday’s first-quarter comeback, their impact didn’t translate on Saturday.

When the Clippers got down to 10 midway through the second game and Lue put up a small lineup, a group of fans behind the basket near the team bench started a loud “We want Ro-Co” chant and begged Lue, the underused forward to use Robert Covington. Covington only came on for Marcus Morris Sr. with four minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Clippers 19 minutes behind.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.


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