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The Los Angeles Clippers began a six-game road trip on Saturday with a 133-130 victory over the New Orleans pelicans at the Smoothie King Center in Louisiana.
THERE. continued his recent streak despite the absence of striker Paul George, who lost his fifth consecutive game with a hamstring injuries. The Clips have won three consecutive contests and have held a superb 8-3 record since beating rival Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas day.
New Orleans is eagerly awaiting the return of Zion Williamson’s first ever choice, that is scheduled to make his NBA debut Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs. The pelicans have had four wins in their last five games before Saturday’s defeat to one of the championship contenders.
Remarkable game statistics
Kawhi Leonard (LAC): 39 PTS, 6 REB, 6 AST, 5 STL
Lou Williams (LAC): 32 PTS, 5 AST
Montrezl Harrell (LAC): 24 PTS
Derrick Favors (NO): 22 PTS, 11 REB
Brandon Ingram (NO): 21 PTS, 7 REB, 6 AST
Lonzo Ball (NO): 18 PTS, 10 REB, 11 AST
JJ Redick (NO): 19 PTS
Leonard warrants further considerations on MVP
Leonard is one of the most decorated players in the NBA. He was named Finals MVP after leading both the San Antonio Spurs and the Toronto Raptors for the 2014 and 2019 titles respectively, and was named the defender of the year and the All-NBA First Team twice each.
The 28-year-old Los Angeles native has never won the MVP of the regular season, and is treated again as an afterthought despite his strong play so far in the 2019-2020 campaign.
Leonard is sixth in the last odds, but his +4100 betting line is far behind the top five contenders: the Milwaukee BucksGiannis Antetokounmpo (-145), Luka Doncic of Dallas Mavericks (+350), James Harden (+459) of Houston Rockets and the tandem of LeBron James (+750) and Anthony Davis (+900), for Oddschecker.
Although he lost some time due to minor injuries and load management, he was exceptional when he was on the ground in his first year with the Clippers. He came into play with an average of 26.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.9 steals in 32 appearances.
A sizable portion of that production came without another superstar-level player on the floor due to George’s injuries. He played 26 of the 43 Clips games.
Leonard was once again stellar without his high profile running mate Saturday. He scored 21 points in the first half to keep L.A. at an impressive distance in an otherwise lackluster defensive effort that allowed New Orleans to put 80 points on the scoreboard in the half-time.
His two-way contributions are why he finished fourth in ESPN More-less real behind him only James, Giannis and Harden who enter Saturday.
Leonard should in no way be the runaway MVP front-runner. All the other players mentioned above are experiencing exceptional seasons in their own right, and between the first two Reigning MVP Antetokounmpo and Doncic is probably a fair assessment by the oddsmakers.
That said, the Clippers’ top scorer deserves at least one place in the conversation, especially if he can stay healthy during the second half of the season.
Ball emerging as an X factor for pelicans
The ball has taken a leading role in the New Orleans offense with fellow guard Jrue Holiday sidelined in the past seven games due to an elbow injury. He responded by playing some of the best basketball of his career.
The 22-year-old UCLA joined the NBA in the midst of an incredible hype, but he endured a couple of seasons up and down with the Lakers before being swapped with pelicans in the off-season. Maybe move away from the bright lights of L.A. it was best for him.
He averaged 15.8 points, 9.0 assists, 7.0 rebounds and 2.4 three in appearances on January 8, entering the clash with the Clippers. He continued to show off his offensive progress on Saturday, including four triples to bring him already within 10 of his peak season with the Lakers.
The hot streak comes at a perfect time as New Orleans tries to leap into the playoffs.
If you consider that Ingram is enjoying a breakout campaign, Ball is finally putting it all together, the returns of Williamson and Holiday in the near future and a powerful support cast led by a veteran marksman chosen at Redick, the talent is there to make a some noise.
The third year level guard still projects himself as a violent shooter, but the pelicans won’t need him to fill the trash every night when they are at full speed. However, awareness of being capable of occasional 25-point bursts is an important step in the right direction.
Ball’s potential and generalized production has never been questioned. He is finally starting to look like a player worthy of the second overall pick in the 2017 draft, and that’s great news for New Orleans.
The next stop for Clipper 30-13 is the American Airlines Center, where they will board the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday evening.
New Orleans, which is now located at 4-27-27, goes to the FedEx Forum to tackle the Memphis Grizzlies Monday night before returning home for Williamson’s first NBA game Wednesday.