Paul George, LA meets CJ McCollum, Pelicans in Play-In tournament

After losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night, Paul George and the LA Clippers will face CJ McCollum and the New Orleans Pelicans in Friday night’s play-in tournament. The winner becomes the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The loser has ended his season.

The Pelicans advanced in the play-in tournament by defeating the San Antonio Spurs and securing seventh place after the Denver Nuggets defeated the Memphis Grizzlies Thursday night. The Pelicans are now traveling to Los Angeles where they will face off against home team Clippers.

In 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 close of trade. The Clippers won the final matchup after Paul George returned from injury:

November 19: Clippers 81 @ Pelicans 94
November 29: Clippers 104 vs. Pelicans 123
January 13: Clippers 89 @ Pelicans 113
April 3: Clippers 119 vs. Pelicans 100

Eric Bledsoe and Justise Winslow were still members of LA in those first three games. However, CJ McCollum was also a member of the Blazers for the first three matchups. The only four Clippers to appear 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 before the All-Star break, averaging 18.7 points per game. The league’s best offense in the last two weeks of the season shot just 31 percent out of three in those games.

In their only win, the Clippers defeated the Pelicans by 19 points. The game marked Paul George’s third game from injury and LA took a double-digit lead in the second quarter that they wouldn’t give up the rest of the way. The Clippers made 21 threes that game and shot 47 percent from the field and from threes.

What’s at stake?

Friday night’s play-in game between the Clippers and Pelicans will be for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The Phoenix Suns have the best record in the NBA and first place in the West, meaning the winner of Friday’s game will fly to Phoenix for Game 1 of the first-round series on Sunday afternoon.

The loser of the Clippers-Pelicans game will finish his season. Losing the 7-8 matchup, Paul George’s Clippers had another chance to earn a playoff berth. CJ McCollum and the Pelicans won their play-in match 9-10 against the San Antonio Spurs and advanced to the deciding game on Friday night.

The winner of that game on Friday night meets the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs on Sunday night. The loser of that game is out and probably booking the first flight to Cancun this weekend.

Who is available?

The LA Clippers just brought Paul George and Norman Powell back from their respective injuries. George was limited to around 32-34 minutes per game, but the Clippers forward finished his first play-in game at 41 minutes. The expectation is he’ll play about the same amount against the Pelicans on Friday night.

Norman Powell played 27 minutes off the Clippers bench in her first play-in game. For the third straight game since his return, Powell started hot but seemed to flare up later in the game. Powell, who fractured his foot, is probably still trying to regain his condition. Unfortunately, the Clippers may only have one game left and will need anything they can get from him, especially with Luke Kennard injured.

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 didn’t expect Kennard’s injury to last beyond the one game, but the NBA’s top scorer walked out of the second night of the consecutive game with a sore muscle and hasn’t played since.

Kawhi Leonard, who has yet to play this season, is unlikely to be available for Friday night’s game.

The Pelicans haven’t been relatively healthy in the last few weeks of the season, but they seem to be doing the right thing 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 made it shine since joining from the Blazers, and there’s little reason to think that will change.

Still, anything can happen in a one-game scenario.

Warrior Andre Iguodala

Viardos Sports