The Lakers (3-5) will look to bounce back from an ugly loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight when they take on the new-look New Orleans Pelicans (3-4) at Staples Center.
The Lakers will be playing without Steve Nash for the first of what could be many games; Nash saw back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins on Monday and will miss a minimum of two weeks with nerve root irritation in his back that causes pain in his hamstring. At 39 years old, it’s hard to imagine Nash back on the court that soon– keep in mind that Nash was unable to come into training camp healthy despite a full offseason of rest and rehabilitation. Jodie Meeks will take Nash’s place in the starting lineup, with Steve Blake sliding over one guard spot to handle the point guard duties.
Jordan Hill will make his first start of the year, and it’s about time, quite honestly. Hill has been a bright spot for the Lakers, providing constant energy off the bench. His PER of 21.8 is team best for players who have seen significant minutes (Meeks is second at 16.5), and he’s been a key contributor during crunch time minutes. Keep an eye on Hill’s energy levels- if he can keep up the high intensity playing a starter’s load of minutes, he may find himself starting at a much higher frequency.
In the last game against the Pelicans, a 96-85 loss that was closer than the final score indicated, Anthony Davis put his full repertoire on display, torching the purple and gold for 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 big blocks. Pau had trouble scoring on the second-year player, who’s put on a good deal of muscle and seems to have evolved into one of the very best big man in the league. Tonight, Gasol will need to shoulder an increased burden on the offensive end to keep the shorthanded Lakers in the game. He’ll need to play significantly better than he has been recently for LAL to have a chance- in the last three contests, Pau is shooting a combined 9 for 34 (26%) and averaging 7.3ppg. It’s worth noting that Pau has been struggling with a respiratory illness but says that he is finally feeling better, so it’ll be interesting to see if he has the spring back in his legs that has been lacking recently.
Blake has a tough defensive assignment tonight in young all-star Jrue Holiday, who had 13 assists in the earlier game against the Pelicans. But the key tonight will be stopping-no, containing- Davis. Against Minnesota, Wesley Johnson, Chris Kaman, and Shawne Williams all failed to contain another elite power forward in Kevin Love. If Davis is able to have his way on the low block tonight against whoever may be guarding him, it could be a long night for the Lakers, who are looking to avoid a three game skid after the epic win in Houston.
If the Lakers want to right the ship and stick around in the playoff race, these are the games they’ll need to find a way to win despite Kobe’s, and now Nash’s, absence. The Pelicans are more talented than this current Lakers team is, for sure- Anthony Davis will be an all-star this year, Jrue Holiday was one last-year, and Tyreke Evans was once touted as the next big thing after a sparkling rookie campaign that earned him Rookie of the Year honors- but they’re young, and have been less than stellar on the road. Nick Young is currently the only player whose proven that he can create his own shot for this Lakers team, so they’ll need to rely on the three-ball heavily until Kobe’s return. Whenever that may be, the return of #24 will make this squad a better team without question- but it’s crucial that they don’t dig themselves too deep a whole before he does make it back on the court.
A 3-6 start would not be what the doctor ordered.