LOS ANGELES — Outrebounded and out-Valanciunas’d, the Clippers came up short Monday night in a deflating 123-104 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Jonas Valanciunas, New Orleans’ bearded big man, scored 29 of his career-high 39 points in the first half, when he shot 7 for 7 from 3-point range.
Later, the Lithuanian’s soaring right-handed dunk punctuated a memorable night – for him – and pushed the Pelicans’ lead to 107-92 with 4:10 left.
The Clippers lost despite shooting 51.4% (37 for 72) from the field, hurt by a lopsided discrepancy in second-chance points (18-4), a residual of New Orleans’ 14-4 offensive rebounding advantage.
Paul George went 10 for 20 from the field (though just 3 for 10 from 3-point range) en route to 27 points. And Reggie Jackson (19), Serge Ibaka (13) and Eric Bledsoe (10) all scored in double figures.
After starting the season 8-4, the Clippers (11-10) now have lost six of their past nine games.
The Clippers erased much of what had been a 21-point Pelicans lead and got the margin under 10 – 95-87 – with 7:21 left after an official review flipped an offensive foul on George into an and-1 and sank the free throw.
But they couldn’t stop New Orleans (6-17) down the stretch, losing to the Pelicans for the second time this month.
The Clippers fell behind by as many as 19 points in the first quarter – despite making their first five shots. They finished the period shooting 3 for 12.
And their usually dependable defense failed to account for Valanciunas, who finished 15 for 24 from the field.
In the first half, the 6-foot-11 center went 7 for 7 from behind the arc in 16 first-half minutes, tying a New Orleans franchise record for most 3-pointers in any half.
Together, he and Ingram combined for 43 points in the opening half on 17-for-22 shooting, including an 8-for-9 mark from behind the arc.
In his first five NBA seasons, Valanciunas made just one 3-pointer on four attempts. But he entered Monday’s game shooting 23 for 50 from 3-point range this season. That tally includes having established a new career high when he went 5 for 9 against the Clippers in a win over Lue’s squad earlier this month.
He missed his only attempt from long range in the second half on Monday.
The Pelicans – who, by the way, are expecting star power forward Zion Williamson soon to begin participating in all team activities after undergoing offseason surgery on his fractured right foot – lost 12 of their first 13 games.
They were 2-14 the last time they faced the Clippers on Nov. 19. Valanciunas helped them beat L.A., 94-81, and New Orleans has gone 3-2 since, with victories over Utah and Dallas.
Monday’s game at Staples Center was New Orleans’ last on a three-game road swing that started with a back-to-back set against the Jazz.
The Clippers lost, 105-90, to Golden State on Sunday when they spotted the Warriors 31 points on a season-high 25 turnovers.
On Monday, they gave it away 15 times – with George responsible for seven of their turnovers. He’d recorded a career-high-tying eight turnovers against the Warriors.
More to come on this story.