The loss to the Clippers is a bad sign against the Pelicans ahead of a critical week

To avoid a championship game, or hold on to home-court advantage for a first-round series, the Clippers must finish the regular season.

That will be more difficult with a start like Saturday’s.

Against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Clippers lost by nine points in the first five minutes of the first quarter.

Two minutes into the second quarter, the 11-point lead reached 19.

Just four minutes after the start of the third quarter, the 12-point lead reached 18.

From there, the Clippers were not tasked with mounting a comeback in a 131-110 loss at Arena.

Time and time again, they found the Pelicans’ best shooters and made open shots.

Time and time again, the Clippers have never been able to apply enough pressure to change that — an ominous sign for a critical week, as they face Western Conference opponents in three of their next four games to secure a spot in a well-loaded standings.

A few hours before the tip-off, there was a modest hint of optimism when defender Norman Powell, sidelined since March 2 with an injury to his left shoulder, posted a collection of photos on Instagram of himself taking part in training. the contact

But Powell is not expected to return for the next game, Monday against the Chicago Bulls, and still needs to get a few more benchmarks in his recovery before he is cleared to play. Paul George, of course, won’t be on the court anytime soon either due to a sprained right knee.

But if there’s one opponent who will have any sympathy for the Clippers’ injury woes, it’s New Orleans.

Clippers Terance Mann, right, tries to shoot in front of New Orleans Pelicans forward Naji Marshall during the first half Saturday.

(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

Star forward Zion Williamson has been sidelined since January 2nd with a hamstring injury. Defender Jose Alvarado has not played since February 27 due to a shin injury. And while Saturday was New Orleans’ 74th game, it was only Brandon Ingram’s 37th.

Most troubling for the Clippers was that New Orleans didn’t need their entire complement of players to take control. They only needed two.

After three baskets by Ingram inside New Orleans’ first possession, the Clippers called a timeout with 128 seconds left in the game with an eight-point lead. On one possession, Ingram and Pelicans teammate Dyson Daniels collided with each other as they raced toward the three-point arc in a miscommunication, and yet Ingram still got open for a three-pointer.

Then the Clippers lost track of Trey Murphy for four 3-pointers in the first quarter — defensive miscues made all the more glaring by the lack of other shooting opportunities the Clippers had to defend.

By the end of the first quarter, the Pelicans had made nine of 11 three-pointers for an 11-point lead, and Ingram and Murphy’s combined 26 points tied the Clippers’ total. It was the second straight game in George’s absence since the revamped starting lineup created a first-quarter lead instead of a lead.

But reserves like guards Bones Hyland and Terance Mann, who provided the energy and pace that started Thursday’s first-quarter comeback, their impact didn’t return Saturday. For good measure, Murphy drilled his fifth 3-pointer and hit an alley-oop lob early in the second quarter to help New Orleans’ lead reach 19.

When the Clippers were up 10 midway through the second and coach Tyronn Lue deployed a small lineup without a center, a group of fans behind the basket closest to the team bench began a loud chant of “We want Ro-Co,” urging Lue. insert underutilized forward Robert Covington. Covington did not enter; Central Ivica Zubac crossed before half-time after the small-ball line-up put two aside in their four minutes together.

The lineup didn’t slow down New Orleans’ shots. Murphy finished the first half with six triples. Murphy then pushed New Orleans’ halftime lead to 12-15 by opening the second half with another 3-pointer. Murphy and Ingram each finished with 32 points.

The Clippers couldn’t match the shot. After making 13 of his 15 shots in a win, Kawhi Leonard missed all six of his three-point attempts and left the game early after suffering a facial contusion. He finished with 12 points.

Hyland finished with 18 points and seven assists and Eric Gordon had 15 points.

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