After falling to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night, Paul George and the LA Clippers will take on CJ McCollum and the New Orleans Pelicans in the play-in tournament Friday night. The winner will become the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The loser will have their season come to an end.
The Pelicans advanced in the play-in tournament by taking down the San Antonio Spurs secured the seventh seed after the Denver Nuggets defeated the Memphis Grizzlies Thursday night. The Pelicans will now travel to Los Angeles, where they’ll take on the home-team Clippers.
During the 2021-22 regular season, the Clippers won the season series with the Timberwolves, 3-1.
The Pelicans decisively won the first three games against the Clippers, all before the trade deadline. The Clippers won the last matchup once Paul George returned from injury:
Nov. 19: Clippers 81 @ Pelicans 94
Nov. 29: Clippers 104 vs. Pelicans 123
Jan. 13: Clippers 89 @ Pelicans 113
Apr. 3: Clippers 119 vs. Pelicans 100
Eric Bledsoe and Justise Winslow were still members of LA for those first three games. However, CJ McCollum was also a member of the Blazers for the first three matchups. The only four Clippers to play in all four games were Reggie Jackson, Ivica Zubac, Terance Mann, and Amir Coffey. Paul George played in three of the four games, while Marcus Morris played in two of them,
The Clippers lost the three matchups with the Pelicans, all prior to the All-Star break, by an average of 18.7 points per game. The league’s best offense over the final two weeks of the season shot just 31 percent from three in those games.
In their lone win, the Clippers defeated the Pelicans by 19 points. The game marked Paul George’s third game back from injury, and LA took a double-digit lead in the second quarter they would not relinquish the rest of the way. The Clippers made 21 threes in that game, shooting 47 percent from the field and from three.
What’s on the line?
The Clippers-Pelicans play-in game on Friday night will be for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The Phoenix Suns locked in the best record in the NBA and first seed in the West, which means the winner of Friday’s game will be flying to Phoenix for Game 1 of the first-round series on Sunday afternoon.
The loser of the Clippers-Pelicans game will have their season come to an end. As the loser of the 7-8 matchup, Paul George’s Clippers were afforded another chance to earn a playoff spot. CJ McCollum and the Pelicans won their 9-10 play-in matchup against the San Antonio Spurs and advanced to the deciding game on Friday night.
The winner of that Friday night game will advance to face the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs on Sunday night. The loser of that game will be eliminated and likely book the first flight to Cancun that weekend.
Who is available?
The LA Clippers just got Paul George and Norman Powell back from their respective injuries. George had been limited to about 32-34 minutes per game, but the Clippers forward finished with 41 minutes in their first play-in game. The expectation is he’ll play around the same total Friday night against the Pelicans.
Norman Powell played 27 minutes off the Clippers bench in their first play-in game. For the third game in a row since his return, Powell started out hot, but appeared to flame out later on in the game. Powell, who is coming off a fracture in his foot, is likely still trying to regain his conditioning. Unfortunately, the Clippers potentially only have one game left and will need everything they can get from him, especially with the injury to Luke Kennard.
Luke Kennard missed the Clippers’ play-in game against the Timberwolves with a hamstring injury. He missed the team’s third-to-last game of the regular season, but was able to return for the back-to-back set a few days later. Head coach Tyronn Lue did not expect Kennard’s injury to linger beyond the one game, but the NBA’s best shooter left the second night of the back-to-back with a sore hamstring and has not been able to suit up since.
Kawhi Leonard, who has yet to play this season, is not expected to be available for Friday night’s game.
The Pelicans haven’t been relatively healthy over the last few weeks of the season, but they seem to be right at the right time. Brandon Ingram missed a few games with a hamstring injury, but returned and helped New Orleans win their play-in game against the Spurs. CJ McCollum has been lighting it up since his trade from the Blazers, and there’s little reason to believe that will change.
Still, in a one-game scenario, anything can happen.