Pelicans, Clippers off to good starts, face each other
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NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Pelicans will attempt to continue to ride their league-leading offense when they seek to remain unbeaten Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Both teams are off to surprisingly strong starts, which in each case includes a win over Houston, the team that led the Western Conference in wins last season.
The Pelicans (2-0) overpowered the Rockets in Houston 131-112 on opening night behind double-double performances by Anthony Davis (32 points, 16 rebounds) and Nikola Mirotic (30 points, 10 rebounds).
The Clippers (2-1), meanwhile, took a defensive approach to save a 115-112 home win over the Rockets on Sunday night, denying James Harden on Houston's final possession to preserve a three-point win.
The Clippers managed a split at New Orleans last season, winning in January behind a combined 39 points and 31 rebounds from Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Neither is still with Los Angeles, with Griffin having been dealt to Detroit the day after the win at New Orleans, while Jordan left as a free agent over the summer.
Another player who will not be on hand Tuesday night -- center DeMarcus Cousins -- was a difference-maker in the Pelicans' one home win over the Clippers last season. He had 35 points and 15 rebounds in the November game.
Cousins, who ruptured his Achilles and missed the final three meetings with Los Angeles last season, has since moved on to Golden State as a free agent.
Helping pick up the slack in New Orleans has been guard Elfrid Payton, a free-agent signing who made his Pelicans debut with a triple-double at Houston.
He has since contributed 11 points to Friday's win over Sacramento.
Payton credits his fast start in New Orleans to the presence of Mirotic, who has totaled 66 points in the two wins despite drawing much of the defensive attention
"A lot of it is open shots and a lot of it has to do with Niko," Payton unselfishly said of his success. "Niko, he can't miss right now. A big part of that is him not missing, but along with that is our spacing. Coach (Alvin Gentry) is confident in us taking those shots. He wants us to take those shots. I think that goes a long way. We hope to keep that up throughout the year."
The Clippers have opened with three straight at home, all against projected Western playoff contenders -- Denver, Oklahoma City and Houston.
They've managed a winning record despite getting little offensively from guard Avery Bradley, who has totaled just 15 points in the three games, shooting just 7-for-23 (30.4 percent) overall and 1-for-8 (12.5 percent) on 3-pointers.
But Bradley has been a big factor defensively, helping the Clippers limit high-powered opposing guards Jamal Murray, Dennis Schroder and Harden to a combined 16-for-53 shooting (30.2 percent).
"Where we struggled was defensively last year," noted Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who has replaced his son Austin at the point with Patrick Beverley. "So that's our target."
The Pelicans shot 47.1 percent in winning three of four, including both games in Los Angeles, against the Clippers last season.
Updated October 23, 2018