A look at three key numbers related to Thursday’s game at the Smoothie King Center between the LA Clippers and New Orleans (7 p.m. Central, Fox Sports New Orleans, ESPN Radio New Orleans 100.3 FM):
5, 9: New Orleans rank among the 30 teams in points scored per game (117.0) and the Clippers’ rank in points allowed per game (106.5), respectively. When the Pelicans have the ball Thursday, it’s a matchup of strength vs. strength, as New Orleans has repeatedly piled up the points early in 2019-20, while LA features one of the best defensive lineups in the NBA, including Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley and Paul George, the latter expected to make his season debut in this Western Conference meeting. Adjusted for pace, New Orleans does not rank as high in offensive efficiency at No. 12 overall, but still places in the top half of the league and has been far superior there than in defensive efficiency (28th, via NBA.com). The Clippers coincidentally have the exact same defensive efficiency status (ninth place) as they do when evaluated by points allowed per game, which is somewhat expected because they are No. 15 in pace among the 30 teams. The Pelicans are the league’s third-fastest squad (107.08 possessions per 48 minutes), behind only Milwaukee (108.03) and Houston (107.09).
1, 3, 5, 7: New Orleans’ first-, third-, fifth- and seventh-leading scorers this season, all of whom appear on the team’s current injury report, a group includes Brandon Ingram (25.9 ppg), Josh Hart (12.6), Lonzo Ball (11.5) and Jahlil Okafor (9.9). That quartet has combined to average 59.9 points early in ’19-20. Keep in mind, that substantial number of offensive production does not include the potential contributions of No. 1 overall draft pick Zion Williamson, who has not played an official game yet; as well as key reserve Darius Miller, who is expected to miss the entire season due to injury. As a result of the health-related absences, the Pelicans (2-8) have been forced to improvise and have already used seven different starting lineup in 10 games. However, if Ingram is available to start against the Clippers, New Orleans would have the option of repeating the first unit from Saturday’s win at Charlotte (Ingram, Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick, Kenrich Williams, Derrick Favors).
1: New Orleans rank in terms of toughest schedule through the first three weeks of the regular season, as determined by NBA.com’s strength of schedule formula. The Pelicans have had the most difficult slate of any squad so far and it certainly hasn’t gotten easier in Week 4, with a Monday matchup vs. Houston (8-3), followed by Thursday’s home game vs. the Clippers (7-4) and Saturday’s visit to Miami (7-3). On paper, the Pelicans’ schedule gets “easier” briefly on Sunday when Golden State (2-10) visits, but the Warriors previously prevailed in the Crescent City on Oct. 28, arguably their most impressive performance so far. In addition to its brutal early-season schedule, New Orleans has been hampered by poor results in close games, going just 1-5 in clutch time, as measured by NBA.com. Only Portland (3-6) has lost more contests “in the clutch.” Oddly, despite New Orleans’ general offensive success, the Pelicans rank just 29th in clutch efficiency (66.7 points scored per 100 possessions), ahead of only Cleveland (63.6).