The New Orleans Pelicans are getting closer to resembling a team that might eventually compete for a playoff spot.
After losing 12 of their first 13 games to start the season, the Pelicans have been hovering near .500 for the past two weeks.
New Orleans will try to finish its three-game road trip with a winning record when it visits the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night.
The Pelicans split back-to-back games at the Utah Jazz on Friday and Saturday, but the best news coming out of the weekend was the announcement that power forward Zion Williamson has been cleared to participate in all team activities.
Williamson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, has not played this season after undergoing offseason surgery to repair a fractured right foot.
Williamson isn’t scheduled to begin practicing until Thursday, so the Pelicans will need another solid group effort against the Clippers, something they’re doing more and more as the season rolls along.
“I told the guys in the locker room, in preseason to where we are now, we can see that we’re getting better,” New Orleans coach Willie Green said. “We’re building.”
The Pelicans beat the Clippers in New Orleans on Nov. 19, overcoming a 20-point first-half deficit in the 94-81 victory.
That loss by the Clippers has been part of a concerning stretch. Los Angeles has lost five of its eight following an 8-4 start to the season.
“It’s a combination of everything,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “Not converting in transition, turnovers, and just making the right play. We work over it in practice, now we’ve just got to do it in the game.”
Los Angeles looked particularly out of sync in a 105-90 loss to the visiting Golden State Warriors on Sunday afternoon, committing 25 turnovers that led to 31 points.
“The turnovers are killing us,” Lue said. “We’ve got to be better with that. Making the simple pass, the simple play.”
The Pelicans hope to shoot a lot better at the start of the game than they did on Saturday against the Jazz.
New Orleans missed its first 20 attempts from 3-point distance in the 127-105 loss. Meanwhile, the Jazz went 20-for-35 from beyond the arc.
“We have to bring more toughness, more know-how, and we can’t let (the opponent’s) shot making take us out of running our offense,” Green said. “I thought, to a degree, that’s what happened (Saturday) night.”
The Pelicans don’t want to be a one-dimensional team either.
When their shots aren’t falling, they need to find other ways to produce points, forward Brandon Ingram said
“We just have to find a way,” Ingram said. “(On) bad shooting nights, maybe we up our defense a little bit and we try to get some easy points in transition.”
New Orleans center Jonas Valanciunas, who had 26 points and 13 rebounds against the Clippers earlier this month, needs one rebound to reach 6,000 for his career.
Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe scored the 10,000th point of his NBA career in the loss to the Warriors.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Bledsoe said. “To score that many points, not many people do it. It’s definitely a blessing that I’ll tell my kids and grandkids.”