Pelicans vs. Clippers: Odds, Hot Takes and Top Storylines for Play-In Game
Win or go fishing.
Those are the stakes facing the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Clippers as they fight for the Western Conference's No. 8 seed in Friday's final NBA play-in tournament game (10 p.m. ET on TNT).
L.A. had a chance to avoid this game, but it couldn't protect a double-digit fourth-quarter lead and fell to the Minnesota Timberwolves by a 109-104 count on Tuesday. One night later, New Orleans secured its invitation to this contest by knocking off the San Antonio Spurs 113-103 behind CJ McCollum's 32 points and seven assists.
The Clippers are the favorites here, as they had the better season, have home-court advantage and employ the most decorated player in the contest in Paul George (or the two most decorated if you count Kawhi Leonard, who hasn't suited up all season).
But the Pelicans, which have won 10 of their last 16 games, might be leveling up at the right time.
Spread: Clippers (-3.5)
Moneyline: Clippers (-168; bet $168 to win $100); Pelicans (+142; bet $100 to win $142)
Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook
The next close contest between these clubs will be the first.
All four regular-season matchups—three won by New Orleans—were decided by at least 13 points. The series included 19-point wins by each team and a 24-point triumph for the Pels.
Having said that, two of the games happened in November and only one went down after the deadline, when both teams added impact players (Norman Powell and Robert Covington for L.A., CJ McCollum for New Orleans).
The most recent matchup (April 3) was the Clippers' lone victory. Marcus Morris Sr. was the only 20-point scorer on either side, but L.A. used its balance (seven double-digit scorers), three-point shooting (21 makes at a 47.7-percent clip) and defense (New Orleans shot 40.2 percent) to cruise to a 119-100 win.
L.A.'s 104 points on Tuesday were its fewest in weeks, as it entered that game having scored at least 113 in seven straight and topping 120 in four of them. On Wednesday, New Orleans held an opponent to fewer than 109 points for only the second time in its last seven.
Herbert Jones Is New Orleans' X-Factor
A few things need to go right for New Orleans to win on Friday.
At least one of McCollum or Brandon Ingram need to go berserk on offense, if not both, and Jonas Valanciunas must control the interior and dissuade the Clippers from going small. The Pelicans have to hit their outside shots and keep from being buried beneath an L.A. barrage of them.
More than anything, though, New Orleans needs rookie Herbert Jones to live up to his "Not On Herb" nickname and make life miserable for Paul George.
L.A. has other capable scorers, but George is the constant. He wasn't great on Tuesday but still willed his way to 34 points, six three-pointers and five assists.
The 31-year-old has struggled against New Orleans this season, averaging 20.3 points on 37.7 percent shooting, and Jones had a hand in those struggles. When matched up with the rookie, the veteran shot just 4-of-13, had one assist against three turnovers and never found his way to the free-throw line.
George might have a big scoring night on Friday, because he's a star and that's what stars do. Jones needs to do everything he can to make sure he at least works for those points and doesn't net them with wild efficiency.
Norman Powell Could Be Clippers' Key
Tuesday marked only the sixth time Norman Powell has suited up for the Clippers, as he lost nearly two months to a fractured bone in his left foot.
The 28-year-old has been brilliant in basically all of them.
Only once has Powell failed to shoot at least 50 percent from the field. He's an absurd 16-of-29 (55.2 percent) as a Clipper. He has scored at least 20 points three times and never fewer than 16 points despite the fact that Tuesday marked only the second time he logged more than 24 minutes.
He plays both ends of the floor, too, and can supply secondary playmaking in a pinch. He's a really, really good player—maybe L.A.'s second best as long as Leonard is stuck on the sideline.
As great as George is, he'll need help to take down the Pelicans. Powell is the most likely supplier of that assistance.
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