The last game of the western conference play-in tournament just got a major shakeup. The bout to decide the eighth seed between the New Orleans Pelicans and LA Clippers took a left turn when star forward Paul George was placed into health and safety protocols. Per Farbod Esnaashari of Sports Illustrated, George felt symptoms and was later tested. George’s placement into protocols is a brutal blow for the Clippers. A team that already faced major roadblocks all season. But tonight, the short-handed Clippers face their toughest test yet.
Short-Handed Clippers Face Toughest Test
Fighting on the boards
Going into Friday night’s game, the Clippers already had a tall task ahead. The Pelicans are one of the most ferocious rebounding teams in the league. Ranking fourth in offensive, third in defensive, and third overall in crashing the glass. The Clippers? Bottom five in the league. New Orleans’ twin tower starting lineup of Jaxson Hayes and Jonas Valanciunas is going to give the Clippers a huge challenge. Clippers’ center Ivica Zubac will be asked to put in one of the best efforts he has all season. It won’t be too far off of a goal, as Zubac snagged 14 rebounds in the Clippers’ victory over New Orleans on April 3rd. Together the Clippers will need to gang rebound in order to keep the Pelicans from dominating the glass.
George’s void is felt on offense, but the defensive side will be missed dearly as well. George might have been the one to defend Pelicans’ guard CJ McCollum tonight. McCollum is coming off a 32-point performance in the Pelicans’ win over the San Antonio Spurs. With no George, look for Nicolas Batum, Terance Mann, Robert Covington, and Norman Powell to take turns stopping the scintillating scoring guard. We can potentially see Mann starting tonight to start off on McCollum to force him to work early. The offense will take a hit, but the Clippers will at least have decent size on the wings and another aggressive rebounder.
On offense, the team will look to their usual heroes who have carried them all season with their stars out. Reggie Jackson will see a heavy dose of offensive responsibilities. Look for Jackson to spam double drag screens, as he has done all season, to get downhill and create for himself and others. Additionally, Marcus Morris Sr. is going to see a lot of mid-post touches. The absence of George means that Morris will go back to operating as one of the Clippers’ primary isolation scorers. Los Angeles needs to see Powell have a strong game as well. In his first few games as a Clipper, he was the clear best player on the team. That will need to be the case again tonight as they will lean on him to score on all three levels and get to the line.
Don’t write the Clippers off
If I have learned anything about the Clippers this season, it’s that you can never be too confident in betting against them. From multiple 20-plus point comebacks to undermanned victories. This Clipper team is more than capable of stealing a win tonight. The offensive playmaking is still there in Jackson, Powell, and Morris. And the defense still has length and switchability, even without George. It won’t be easy and they will have to play a near-perfect game. But the Clippers have proven many wrong before, and they are capable of doing it again.
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