Place strategy

Clippers beat Pelicans to clinch eighth place, 2 chances to play

One of the inclusions in the New Orleans Clippers scouting report was a low profile guard whose defensive strategy is unique and had become so well known that the NBA recently consolidated his highlights.

When opponents get on the ball, the lightweight 6-foot guard hides in the corner of a pitch, then rushes behind a dribbler unaware of his presence to push the ball away. When Portland coach Chauncey Billups called his friend, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, on Sunday to warn him about the trick that had recently led to several Trail Blazers turnovers, Lue let him know that he was already planning to have his team watch a Jose Alvarado movie before whistleblowing against the Pelicans.

Maybe it was Lue’s reminder. Perhaps that was his team’s motivation to know what Sunday was worth. But either way, neither Alvarado nor the Pelicans snuck in and upset the Clippers in a 119-100 victory that earned them the eighth-best record in the Western Conference.

In years past, landing eighth place would guarantee a first-round streak against the conference’s top seed. In the age of the play-in tournament, it still has value. The winner of the seven-on-eight match earns the seventh seed while the loser gets another opportunity to advance by facing the winner of the nine-on-10 match.

“I mean it’s not winning or going home or the end, everything, but it’s an important game,” Lue said ahead of the whistleblowing. “If we win tonight, we understand that we have that eighth place and we have a chance in the qualifying game to play two games to win one, so it’s very important and so it’s a big game for us. .”

Marcus Morris Sr. made his first three shots and eight of 13 total to score a team-high 22 points for the Clippers (39-40), who also received 16 points and 14 rebounds from Ivica Zubac and 15 points and seven assists for Paul Georges.

The only outlier on an otherwise easy offensive night was Reggie Jackson, who left several short jump shots, hitting the front of the rim, en route to making four of his 19 shots and one of his nine shots at three points. Yet he also added 10 assists against just two turnovers.

With the eighth locked up, the Clippers have some decisions to make with games against Phoenix, Sacramento and Oklahoma City remaining: use the time to rest or ramp up? With two days off before each of their next two games, the answer likely includes some of each given that the time off will provide the Clippers with practice time to use for their sharpening rather than games.

The possibility remains that guard Norman Powell, sidelined since February 10 with a fractured medial sesamoid bone in his foot, could join them on the training ground. Powell was the last Clipper on the court before kickoff on Sunday, training with trainers on a series of shooting and agility drills that included explosive jumps, his first public practice since the three-game injury in his tenure with the Clippers. Lue said he didn’t know if Powell would practice on either of the next two days.

Up 11 points with 9:05 left before halftime, the Clippers’ lead never dropped to single digits again and rose to 22 at halftime and up to 26 with nine minutes left. player.

After three games with long stretches of high energy and precise shooting, Lue said before the whistleblower that an offense that ranked bottom in the NBA for much of the season was “tending in the right direction. “. And that was before watching the Clippers rip the Pelicans, who had beaten them three times earlier this season, behind the New Orleans outfit to just 44 points in the first half while making 12 of their first 19 threes. points.

They would finish 21 of 44 from deep, the first time in franchise history that they made at least 20 in three straight games to make up for shooting just 10 free throws — 17 less than New Orleans attempted. – while assisting on 33 of their 45 baskets.

A casual observer would never have known the Clippers had the third-worst transition offense in terms of efficiency when Nicolas Batum surgically passed a pass beyond Jonas Valanciunas’ reach for a second-quarter layup against Jackson. , or when Jackson returned a no-look past his head for a Terance Mann dunk.