Clippers shoot their way past short-handed Pelicans

  • Clippers center Serge Ibaka blocks a shot by the Pelicans’ Nickeil Alexander-Walker during the second half of Wednesday’s game at Staples Center. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Jaxson Hayes #10 of the New Orleans Pelicans battles Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers for a rebound during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives past Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans lays up a shot past the defense of Serge Ibaka #9 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Steven Adams #12 of the New Orleans Pelicans pushes Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans attempts to dribble past the defense of Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans dribbles into the defense of Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans dribbles into the defense of Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers defends against a shot by Jaxson Hayes #10 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers defends against a shot by Josh Hart #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Nicolo Melli #20 of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots past the defense of Nicolas Batum #33 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Steven Adams #12 of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots past the defense of Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers dribbles past Steven Adams #12 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers dribbles past Steven Adams #12 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers passes past Steven Adams #12 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers dribbles past Steven Adams #12 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Jaxson Hayes #10 of the New Orleans Pelicans defends against a dribbling Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Josh Hart #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans defends against Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Josh Hart #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans defends against Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers pushes back on the defense of Josh Hart #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers attempts to dunk over the defense of Nicolo Melli #20 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Josh Hart #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans defends against a shot by Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Ivica Zubac #40 and Luke Kennard #5 of the LA Clippers defend against a pass by JJ Redick #4 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2, Ivica Zubac #40 and Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers defend against Jaxson Hayes #10 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers defends against a shot by Josh Hart #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers makes a shot past the defense of Josh Hart #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers dribbles into the defense of Steven Adams #12 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) defends against New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (6) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers battles JJ Redick #4 of the New Orleans Pelicans for a rebound during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Steven Adams #12 and Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans attempt to stop Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) defends against New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) shoots next to Los Angeles Clippers center Serge Ibaka (9) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum (33) defends against New Orleans Pelicans guard Sindarius Thornwell (15) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (6) shoots against Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley (21) blocks a shot by New Orleans Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes, center, during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) defends. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac, rear, defends against New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) makes a 3-pointer against New Orleans Pelicans guard Sindarius Thornwell (15) at the end of the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George, top right, is congratulated after his 3-pointer at the end of the first half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (6) shoots past Los Angeles Clippers center Serge Ibaka (9) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots between New Orleans Pelicans guard Josh Hart (3) and center Steven Adams (12) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans center Steven Adams (12) defends against Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans center Steven Adams (12) defends against Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, right, during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes (10) defends against Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers center Serge Ibaka, top right, defends against New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (6) during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots as New Orleans Pelicans center Steven Adams (12) defends during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans guard JJ Redick (4) passes the ball over Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) and guard Luke Kennard (5) during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) dunks during the fourth quarter of the team’s NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans guard Sindarius Thornwell (15) defends against Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Pelicans center Steven Adams, rear, hugs Clippers guard Paul George after Wednesday’s game at Staples Center. The two used to be teammates in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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LOS ANGELES — The Staples Center stage was set up for a clash of styles and, on Wednesday night, a stark difference of fortunes.

Fully staffed at the outset, the favored Clippers avoided the trappings of life against an undermanned underdog, getting past a pesky New Orleans Pelicans team that was down three starters, including superstar sophomore Zion Williamson.

“When you have a lot of talent sometimes, you can fall victim to that, but we just got to make sure we’re just taking advantage of every day, every game, every practice and trying to get better,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said before his team’s 111-106 victory.

“Our main focus,” Lue insisted, “is us getting better each night, not about the opponent.”

That “professional focus,” as Lue termed it, has been a willed skill that’s required nurturing, to hear Ivica Zubac tell it.

“We come out with the same mindset,” the center said, before revising that statement slightly: “We try to come out with the same mindset – ever since that Dallas game (a franchise-worst 51-point loss).

“We know we’re going to get the best shot from every team, every night and we’re prepared for it. … I think we got better at that from last year, but we can still be better at that.”

It won’t hurt to lodge victories such as Wednesday’s against the Pelicans, who, despite being shorthanded, played their part admirably.

Coach Stan Van Gundy’s squad dominated the boards, 48-36 – fully in character for the team that showed up Wednesday with a league-best rebounding percentage of 54.1 percent.

The Pelicans also did their requisite damage in the paint, outscoring their hosts down low, 52-20.

And they got a boost from second-year guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who flourished in his first start of the season, leading the Pelicans with 37 points (on 15-for-23 shooting) and eight rebounds, both career highs.

But those areas of success weren’t enough against the NBA’s top 3-point shooting team (L.A. is shooting 42.9 percent from deep), which continued to drive, kick and connect from distance – going 18 for 37 against New Orleans.

“I just think taking the right 3s, playing the right way, is the biggest thing for us,” said Lue, whose players excelled at setting up one another Wednesday, assisting on 26 of their 35 made baskets. “We really had the ball hopping tonight early on and we still had some possessions in the second half where the ball was moving as well. We just got to continue to play in the right way through the game.”

While the Pelicans (4-6) shot 10 for 28 from deep, half of the Clippers’ shots originated from behind the arc, and six Clippers connected on multiple 3s. George was responsible for five of them – the ninth time this season he’s hit four or more in a game and the seventh time he made at least five.

“Just shooting it with confidence and really just knowing the shots I’ma get, so I knew what to look for, I know what to expect, I know how the shots are coming,” George said.

Kawhi Leonard led the Clippers with 28 points and nine assists, and George weaved his way through New Orleans’ defense for a typically pretty assortment of baskets, scoring 27 points on shot-making that included a fourth-quarter layup, flipped off the top of the backboard, as well as the 3-pointer as time expired in the first half.

That first-half-finishing trey punctuated a 21-4 run and ended with George falling backward into the arms of Serge Ibaka, who wrapped him in a bear hug and carried him off the court, their lead 18 points.

With the Clippers feeling thinner in the second half, when Lou Williams sat with a sore hip, the Pelicans closed to within 89-85 with 8:11 to go – but L.A. used its long-range skills to nudge the door closed.

Patrick Beverley’s third 3-pointer recreated some distance and Leonard’s first 3-pointer (of two) shortly thereafter made it 97-87, and had team owner Steve Ballmer whipping his right arm in the air from his seat next to the basket.

The Clippers ran a rotation of defenders at Brandon Ingram, last season’s Most Improved Player awardee, and he finished with 22 points on 8-for-19 shooting.

In addition to Williamson (ruled out because of inconclusive coronavirus test results), the Pelicans were missing Lonzo Ball (bilateral knee tendinopathy) and Eric Bledsoe (right eye irritation). Together, the trio accounts for 46.1 points and 15.6 rebounds per game.

The victory was the Clippers’ second in a row, breaking a seven-game, win-one-lose-one pattern they’d been mired in since their 128-105 victory over Portland on Dec. 30.

“Games like this are dangerous, when key guys are out,” Lue said. “Sometimes, you let your guard down. I thought the first half we really didn’t, I thought we really did a good job of coming out with a professional focus.”

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