Clippers' woes against Pelicans could haunt them come playoff time

The New Orleans Pelicans have been a thorn for the Clippers over the last few years, one of the few teams that has mastered ways of beating them.

Friday night’s game carried more significance than usual with the Clippers and Pelicans trending toward a first-round playoff showdown. On some level, the game might have been even more important for a Clippers team that had lost 11 of its last 15 games against New Orleans.

The Clippers were fighting from behind most of the game and couldn’t overcome Zion Williamson and the Pelicans in a 112-104 defeat.

Williamson scored 34 points to give the Pelicans their third win this season over the Clippers.

The Clippers (42-24), fourth in the Western Conference, still hold a two-game lead over the fifth-place Pelicans (40-26), which would give the Clippers home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs if they square off as the No. 4 and 5 seeds. But the Pelicans hold the tiebreaker.

“It’s important, especially if we end up being in the 4-5, just having home-court advantage,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said before the game. “Playing against a good team that’s played well against us, that we really haven’t beaten a lot over the course of the last three or four years.”

Paul George led the Clippers with 26 points and Kawhi Leonard had 23, but the Pelicans had five players score in double figures.

“It’s an important game as teams are starting to fight for position,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “You just want to win as many games as you can coming down the stretch.”

Though the Clippers said Terance Mann was available to return after he had limped to the locker room with 5:10 left in the second quarter, Mann took a seat on the bench. Mann reentered the game with 6:56 left in the third quarter. He finished with nine points and four rebounds in 18 minutes.

P.J. Tucker was solid in his 24 minutes, scoring six points and standing out on defense with a game-high three blocked shots.

Etc: James Harden sat out his second straight game because of a strained left shoulder. “He’s feeling better. He’s just not there yet,” Lue said. … The Clippers’ next game is Sunday night against the Atlanta Hawks at Arena.

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