With their annual Grammy Awards road trip complete, the Los Angeles Clippers have come out as big winners, singing to the tune of a 6-1 mark while rising to first place in the Western Conference.
The Clippers return home Wednesday to play host to the New Orleans Pelicans, now that music’s biggest night has cleared from their building. They already have unpacked their luggage, but not baggage.
After losses by Oklahoma City and Minnesota on Tuesday, Los Angeles now has the best winning percentage in the West at .694. It sits at 34-15 with two games in hand over the Thunder, Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets, who are all 35-16.
“This was a hell of a trip for us,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We go 6-1 against the caliber of teams we played on this trip. Coming into it, we knew it was going to be a tough battle. But I give these guys credit. We stuck with it, and we got down in some games early, continued to keep fighting.
“And like I said, just a total team effort. … We got to get back home, and really start locking up defensively and getting better because we are better than that.”
The trip closed with a 149-144 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday that illustrated Lue’s defensive concerns. But that final game was also the second night of a back-to-back at the end of a long trip.
“That’s just the key, knowing what we did wrong in these games but being happy that you did win,” said Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, who scored 36 points in Monday’s victory. “We know we’ve got to be better, and there’s room for us to get better.”
Los Angeles is an NBA-best 26-5 since the start of December, making the prospect of even better play around a core of Leonard, Paul George and James Harden that much more daunting.
The Pelicans arrive at Los Angeles on a three-game winning streak and will provide a stern test for that Clippers defense while coming off a 138-100 home victory over the Toronto Raptors on Monday. It was New Orleans’ fifth-highest scoring game of the season, just two weeks removed from a 153-point game against the Utah Jazz.
Brandon Ingram scored a season-high 41 points to go along with nine assists for New Orleans on Monday, while CJ McCollum had 20 points. The Pelicans shot 51 percent from the floor.
Ingram’s dominant performance included 8-of-11 shooting from 3-point range and no turnovers in 30 minutes. Ingram made five of his 3-pointers during a short burst of the third quarter, when the team went 10 of 14 from distance.
“It was simple. We pushed the pace, guys set good ball screens, we executed and we found the open shots,” Ingram said. “I felt like the starting five was intentional about what we were doing starting in the first quarter. Everything kind of followed.”
While Ingram has averaged 21.8 points in 46 games this season, Zion Williamson leads the team with an average of 22.1 points across 40 games. McCollum posts 19.2 points per contest and has played in 36 games.
“We know what everybody likes to do,” Ingram said of the trio. “I know what CJ likes to do, I know what (Williamson) likes to do. It’s more about — how can we create opportunities for that? How we can create space for that? How we can continue to just get to that. Let guys isolate and be in actions. Whatever it is. Just create ways to do it consistently.”
–Field Level Media
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