New Orleans Pelicans narrow loss to Clippers shows playoff poise

On Saturday afternoon, the New Orleans Pelicans nearly found a way to take down the NBA title favorites, but the loss still showed a team on the cusp.

With greater and greater frequency, the New Orleans Pelicans are starting to show their ability to be a playoff team.

More than just taking care of the teams they should be beating, the team is really starting to rally, finding ways to hang with, if not knock-off the better teams in their conference.

After knocking-off the Utah Jazz in overtime on Thursday, the Pelicans played host to the LA Clippers, who snuck away, leaving New Orleans with a 130-133 loss, despite giving J.J. Redick a look at the buzzer that could’ve sent the game into overtime.

It was a game where Redick didn’t have the same bag of tricks after sitting three-straight contests with a strained hamstring.

Redick went 5-of-12 from the field with 19 points but clearly didn’t look that comfortable in his 30-plus minutes of action.

Instead, the New Orleans Pelicans leaned on their young cast and sorted crafty veterans to fill up the score sheet and withstand multiple Clipper runs before ultimately heading home with a loss.

In particular, Nickeil Alexander-Walker came off of the bench to give the Pelicans rotation a little extra jolt, especially when he sent a Montrezl Harrell inside look the other way at the end of the first, right after he hit back-to-back threes upon entering the game.

With a couple of good games in the bag of late, Alexander-Walker posted 10 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 awesome block in limited minutes against the Clippers.

Leaving the game with a 16-27 record, the Pelicans still sit in twelfth place in the West (4.5 games out of the playoffs), while the Clippers held rank, improving to 30-13 and sitting as the fourth seed in the conference.

In key moments of the game, the New Orleans Pelicans’ playmaking looked like a thing of beauty.

Playing against the Clippers is always going to be tough, even though they were without Paul George at the Smoothie King Center last night.

Eventually, a combination of poor shot making the fourth quarter and the 39 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, and 5 block effort from Kawhi Leonard put the Pelicans in a spot that took too much to overcome.

In the loss, we still learned a lot about the Pelicans’ ability to play-make against a Clippers team that ranks seventh in the NBA in defensive rating.

All season, we’ve been closely monitoring the development of the incoming trade piece in Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball.

Since arriving in New Orleans and having some time to develop, the two have become quite a formidable wrecking crew and are starting to see the floor with pretty impressive creativity.

Seemingly for the first time this season, Ball was able to get an official triple-double on the score sheet before the whistle blew; his other triple-doubles have come in days following games after the NBA corrects their stats.

Ball finished with his third triple-double of the season, all of which have come in the last five games. He scored 18 points with 11 assists and 10 rebounds, shooting 4-of-9 from three while keeping the Clippers defense on their toes with his passing acumen.

While it’s Lonzo filling up the assist column with increasing regularity, it’s Ingram who’s starting to become a terrifying playmaking option for the New Orleans offense.

When Ball is in control of this offense, he keeps the ball flying around the court with beauty, making this New Orleans Pelicans offense look like one of the elite groups in the league.

Over the last couple of weeks, Brandon Ingram has been creating with beauty on his drives, reading the extra defenders on him and dishing to open men for easy buckets. Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes have both felt this of last, catching great looks from Ingram under the rim.

Though Favors missed games against the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons, Favors rallied to have his best two-game stretch of the season.

Catching those easy looks from Ingram helped the 28-year-old center go 20-of-22 from the floor over the last two games. Last night, he finished 10-of-10 from the floor, finishing with a team-high 22 points and 11 rebounds.

If nothing else, Ingram’s newly discovered interior passing is certain to make for interesting pick-and-roll sets when Zion Williamson returns to the court on Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs.

With Ingram clearly having the court vision to find open bigs around the rim, he should be able to keep Zion’s plate pretty full in the painted area.

However, before the New Orleans Pelicans can look ahead to Zion’s debut against San Antonio, the team travels to face the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, a game that can help the Pelicans climb the later into the playoff picture as they continue to get healthy.

Next: Brandon Ingram has career night against Utah

While the New Orleans Pelicans just couldn’t come up with the victory against the Clippers, it was a game that gave a packed Smoothie King Center crowd a lot of reasons to get excited on a Saturday afternoon; that’s a great way to keep getting this city excited about basketball.

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