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Clippers fall hard in the Big Easy once again in 113-89 loss to Pelicans

Brandon Ingram drives to the basket against Clippers forwards Nicolas Batum and Marcus Morris Sr.
New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram, left, drives to the basket against Clippers forwards Nicolas Batum (33) and Marcus Morris Sr. in the first half Thursday.
(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

It was a Clippers game in New Orleans, which meant the most apt description of another Pelicans victory was, again, big and easy.

And it all stemmed from another night in which Clippers points were, again, few and difficult to come by.

New Orleans’ 113-89 victory was its fourth consecutive by double digits against the Clippers at Smoothie King Center — and fifth straight overall — and if that has become an uncomfortable trend, it has nothing on the way the Clippers’ offense sputtered for a second straight game before halftime.

Amir Coffey had 18 points and the Clippers rallied from down 25 points to edge the Denver Nuggets 87-85 on Tuesday at Crypto.com Arena.

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Though a 28-point first half Tuesday against Denver set the stage for a dramatic 25-point comeback, the fourth-largest in franchise history, Thursday’s 36-point first half beget a 27-point deficit 26 minutes in, and this time there was no rally to save them. Backups brought the Clippers within 13 points with seven minutes to play, but the Pelicans kept their starters in until the final minutes to ultimately drop the Clippers to 21-22.

Clippers starters combined to make 12 of their 42 shots.

“They looked slow, looked pretty old tonight and just didn’t have a lot of pop,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “That happens. We tried everything, I thought our young guys came in and played well and kind of cut the lead and gave us the opportunity to get into the game. But with our starters, from start to finish, they really took advantage of us.”

Terance Mann scored a team-high 15 points, while Brandon Ingram’s 24 points led six Pelicans (16-26) scoring in double figures. Marcus Morris Sr. scored 12 points but has made just three of his last 17 three-pointers.

The loss left the Clippers 10-10 this season against below-.500 teams.

Eric Bledsoe, the backup guard who sparked Tuesday’s comeback, didn’t have a chance at an encore while playing a season-low nine minutes, including just 80 seconds after halftime.

He finished with three points. Amir Coffey, who joined Bledsoe as both Tuesday’s hero and a stabilizing presence in recent weeks also was limited in what he could offer while playing on a minutes restriction that stemmed, Lue said, from playing 43 minutes two days earlier, which created playing time for two-way guard Jay Scrubb. Coffey scored five points, with six rebounds and five assists, in 26 minutes.

The Clippers trailed 10-2 when Lue took his first timeout less than three minutes into the game and 24-7 when he called his second. By halftime they had failed to score at least 40 points in consecutive first halves for the first time this season.

Though that could be read as an outlier, it also fits into a larger picture. There was never a doubt that losing Paul George in late December for at least one month because of an elbow injury was going to make scoring more difficult. Over their last 10 games entering Thursday since George began a long-term rest program, the Clippers had scored just 104.8 points per 100 possessions to rank 26th out of 30 teams.

Yet even upon the returns of injured backup center and gifted passer Isaiah Hartenstein, whose recovery from an ankle injury has improved enough to allow him to travel with the team, and guard Luke Kennard (health and safety protocols), a stark difference isn’t expected. At the time of George’s injury, the Clippers ranked only 25th with a 105.9 offensive rating. The factors for that range from an inability to make open shots during the season’s first weeks to persistent issues holding onto the ball and rebounding.

Thursday featured a confluence of all of them. The Pelicans outrebounded the Clippers by 11, committed nine fewer turnovers and shot 44% to the Clippers’ 38%.

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue let his team know where it stood at the halfway point of season coming off three straight losses, and they beat the Hawks.

The Clippers are 9-18 when grabbing fewer rebounds and 7-15 when committing more turnovers. Even one of the league’s most dogged defenses cannot consistently overcome their lack of offensive punch, with a 2-19 record when shooting a lower percentage than their opponents.

Citing the roster’s upheaval and few opportunities to practice, Mann called it “not easy.”

“Everybody’s in good spirits,” Mann said. “We know that every game is not going to be easy. And we’re going to use these games as practice. So you know, we’ll definitely learn something from this game and apply it to the next one.”

In the parlance of Lue, the Clippers “just didn’t have a lot of juice tonight” — but their hopes of padding their record and steering clear of April’s play-in tournament, featuring the Western Conference’s seventh through 10th seeds, hinge on finding some.


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