The New Orleans Pelicans have reached the brink of playoff elimination just two games into the NBA's restart.
Saturday saw the Pelicans fall to the Los Angeles Clippers 126-103, giving the team its second straight defeat following Thursday's loss to the Utah Jazz. The Clippers, meanwhile, rebounded quickly from their Thursday loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
New Orleans rookie Zion Williamson played 14 minutes, totaling seven points and five rebounds, after seeing the court for just 15 minutes on Thursday.
While the Clippers have already clinched a playoff spot, the Pelicans dropped to four games back of the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth seed in the Western Conference with six games to play.
Kawhi Leonard, SF, Los Angeles Clippers: 24 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists
Paul George, SG, Los Angeles Clippers: 28 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist (8-of-11 from three)
Brandon Ingram, SF, New Orleans Pelicans: 14 points, 2 rebounds
Derrick Favors, C, New Orleans Pelicans: 12 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists
Clippers Set Franchise Record From Three
Never before in the history of the Los Angeles Clippers have its players been as lights-out from long-range as they were on Saturday night.
Granted, the team's history hasn't always been the most positive, which is what made seeing them connect on 25 three-pointers all the more remarkable. It's proven to their fans that even after a hiatus that lasted more than 140 days, this is a team worth believing in.
The Clippers went 25-of-47 from beyond the arc, only two makes from tying the NBA's single-game record. In the process, they connected on 16 threes in the first half, missing out on the league record by one.
It was as ruthless as it sounds. The Pelicans had previously only allowed more than 16 threes in a game five times all season before Saturday. Los Angeles became the sixth team before halftime, giving New Orleans its largest deficit at the break (32 points) in franchise history. The last time it trailed by 31 points at halftime was against the Miami Heat in 2005.
Every Clippers starter except center Ivica Zubac drained a three-pointer. Paul George led the way with eight, while Reggie Jackson and JaMychal Green each hit three off the bench.
The most troubling part for the Pelicans is that it wasn't confined to one part of the floor, either. Los Angeles made more than 10 threes from both the left and right side to go with five from the top of the arc.
Pelicans' Playoff Push Fading
Saturday was supposed to be an evening where Zion Williamson's time on the court began to increase.
Instead, he played a career-low 14 minutes and posted a career-low seven points. This wasn't Williamson playing an ineffective brand of basketball (though he shot just 3-of-7 from the floor); this was the Pelicans getting blown out so early it became irrelevant whether Williamson was in the game at all.
It certainly wasn't worth risking an injury to their star player.
New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters the game didn't get out of hand due to effort, but because of decision-making. The Pelicans turned the ball over 18 times, which L.A. converted into 34 points.
"Being on the floor and getting our ass whooped the whole time, we just use that as juice to come in," forward Brandon Ingram said afterwards. "We can't lose too many more games, we probably can't lose any more games. So we just have to have a sense of urgency on Monday and fight for everything we're trying to get."
Another loss may very well put the playoffs out of reach for the Pelicans, but a win won't necessarily keep them in the race.
After Saturday's result, New Orleans now trails the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings in the battle for the eighth seed.
Year 1 of Williamson is likely to end earlier than NBA fans would've liked.
On Monday, the Pelicans will face their most important game of the restart when they tip off against the Memphis Grizzlies at 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. The result may determine whether New Orleans has a viable path toward the postseason.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, will continue tuning up for its playoff run Tuesday against the Phoenix Suns at 4 p.m. ET on NBA TV.