In different measures, some good, some bad, others ugly, the Clippers looked Thursday like they hadn’t played in serious NBA action since March 10.
With a team-high 30 points, Paul George backed up his proclamation that his shoulders benefited from four months of rest, that they’d healed completely, and that his psyche feels better for it.
In other respects – a ghastly 22 turnovers and 30 personal fouls – the shorthanded Clippers’ cobwebs were enough to elicit shrieks.
Now, on the heels of their bubble-opening 103-101 loss to the Lakers, Doc Rivers’ squad shouldn’t expect the New Orleans Pelicans to accommodate the Clippers in their search for rhythm and cohesion ahead of the playoffs in mid-August.
No, the hungry, high-octane Pelicans have good reason to be disruptive.
New Orleans (28-37) is one of five teams chasing the eighth and final playoff spot, held currently by Memphis, which has a four-game lead on the Pelicans. And after dropping their bubble opener 106-104 against Utah on Thursday, the Pelicans will have even less room for error in their remaining seven seeding games.
Veteran coach Alvin Gentry has his Pelicans believing they can insert themselves into the postseason picture.
“I think we’re in a good place,” New Orleans center Derrick Favors told reporters, via Zoom, a couple days before the restart. “A lot of guys came back in shape, lot of guys came back ready to play, hungry, ready to prove themselves. I think we can come out here and surprise a lot of people as long as we stay together and continue to play hard and stick to the goal – and that’s to make the playoffs.”
The Clippers will face No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson for the first time Saturday; the high-flying 20-year-old juggernaut missed all but 19 games before the restart while he recovered from surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee.
On Thursday, Williamson – who’s averaging 23.1 points in 29 minutes per game – went 6 for 8 from the floor and put up 13 points in 15 minutes.
But because New Orleans continues to be cautious with the young star, and because he’d missed two weeks of practice time while outside of the bubble tending to a family matter and then quarantining for four days upon his return, a minutes restriction precluded him from playing late in New Orleans’ loss Thursday, and the Pelicans fell to 10-10 in games he’s played.
New Orleans was 1-2 this season against the Clippers. In each game, the winning team scored 132 points or more.
The Clippers and Pelicans are averaging 116 points per game, tied for fourth-most in the NBA – although the Clippers typically get an offensive boost off the bench from Lou Williams (18.7 points per game) and Montrezl Harrell (18.6 points), though neither will be available Saturday, respectively, because of an extended, ongoing quarantine or because of an extended, excused absence.
George suggested after Thursday’s loss that the Clippers will be better prepared to absorb a motivated opponent’s initial foray going forward.
“The game was a little out of hand to start off,” said the Palmdale native, who added five rebounds, three assists, three steals – and five turnovers and five fouls – to his ledger Thursday.
“But they were the aggressors. They attacked us defensively. They pressured us. Second half, we came out and I thought we attacked more. We pressured them more. We got back to playing our style of play and the game changed.”
NEW WAYS TO ENGAGE
The Clippers organizations has gotten creative, coming up with ways to connect members of its fan base digitally while the team plays out the season in Florida.
Among the new, interactive options: “Overtime Live,” a regular postgame show hosted virtually by the team’s radio announcer, Noah Eagle, and longtime Clippers fan and comedian Carl Tart. Fans can watch on the team’s official Facebook site (https://clippe.rs/FBGroup) and season-ticket holders will have access to engage with the hosts.
The team also has unveiled a new mobile app, which will repackage some of the team’s more popular in-arena activities to fit on a phone, with games such as bingo, a trick-shot challenge, a dance challenge, fan of the game, a T-shirt toss and a pop-a-shot style game.
Additionally, season-ticket holders have access the NBA’s “Michelob ULTRA Courtside” live video experience, in which they’ve been invited to submit reaction videos that will be shown live in the arena and on the broadcasts. Season-ticket holders also were invited to a virtual town hall, which featured a live Q&A with Lawrence Frank, the team’s president of basketball operations, and Gillian Zucker, the president of business operations.
Pelicans (28-37) vs. Clippers (44-21)
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: HP Field House, Lake Buena Vista, Florida
TV: ESPN, Fox Sports Prime Ticket
Good afternoon #Clippernation – Wanted to jump in as an outsider to the normal host of writers and content creators that keep our timelines well stocked with timely Clippers news to prove some live tweets from the @LAClippers Town hall that is about to get underway. pic.twitter.com/uBMXwsOrHx
— Mike J (@mjones_vandy3) July 28, 2020