After a pretty unpleasant — at least aesthetically — game against the Jazz on Sunday, the Lakers play the Pelicans at Staples Center Tuesday night. Though they have had a home heavy schedule of late, the Lakers bring with them a 4 game losing streak and have lost 8 of 11 overall. They have been playing better, but there are still holes too large to cover up with their current roster construction and schematic approach.
Sunday’s loss against the Jazz also saw the team dealing with the injuries, something they hope is mostly rectified tonight. After sitting out with a sprained ankle and eye injury respectively, D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Bass are going to try and play tonight. If I were to guess, I’d say both find their way into the lineup, though I’d be more cautious with Russell and have my doubts he sees his regular minutes.
The other injury, of course, is Kobe and his strained right achilles tendon. Kobe is listed as questionable, but I’d imagine he does not play tonight. No, this is not his surgically repaired tendon, but that makes being cautious even more prudent. The last thing Kobe needs to do is to try and run out there and give it a go when the ramifications of injuring the leg further could mean an even longer absence (or worse).
Speaking of injuries, it’s the Pelicans who have many more issues to navigate than the Lakers — problems they’ve dealt with all season. Anthony Davis is questionable with a back contusion and Quincy Pondexter has just been ruled out for the year to have knee surgery. These after the team has dealt with Jrue Holiday, Omer Asik, and Tyreke Evans being banged up earlier in the year.
Not having guys available has really been the main backstory to the Pels’ season. Over the summer and into the preseason, they were looked at as a team who should compete for one of the bottom playoff spots in the West. After poaching Alvin Gentry from the Warriors’ staff to serve as head coach and the contract extension of Anthony Davis, many thought this team was ready to take the next step forward. That, of course, has not happened and instead they are one of the lesser teams in the league with only 3 more wins than the Lakers.
All of this is to say I have no clue what to make of tonight’s match up. Should Davis play, the Pelicans should be the clear favorites since he alone can change the landscape of any game he plays in. However, if he does see action he’ll be banged up and if he sits the argument could be made the Lakers are just as talented as the Pels. Sure, they have better veteran talent, but they also do not boast much shooting (even more so after Pondexter’s gone out) which complicates how effective they can be offensively.
For the Lakers, then, this is a game they have a chance to win. And considering they play the Warriors on Thursday, this might be a game they try to give a little bit extra in order to secure a W rather than go into Oakland on a 5 game losing streak (which will likely become 6 at night’s end).
In order to accomplish this the Lakers’ wings must be ready to defend. With or without Davis, a lot of the team’s offense will still flow through Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, and Eric Gordon. Gordon and Holiday have all court games and can both shoot the three ball, while Evans does his best work off the bounce. If the Lakers cannot contain these three, they will not only get their own buckets, but the floor will open up for Ryan Anderson and the team’s role players who feed off what others create for them.
It’s on Clarkson, Williams, Russell (should he play), Young, and Brown to slow these guys. It will also be on Randle, Nance, Hibbert, and Bass to control the paint and be effective first line helpers when dribble penetration is surrendered.
Offensively the Lakers must control pace and try to speed up the game via open court chances. The Pelicans aren’t a good defensive team, but the Lakers are still too stagnant in the half court to try and grind out games that way. Getting easier baskets against defenses that aren’t yet set is still their best strategy. Considering the Pelicans aren’t a good offensive rebounding team, this may give the Lakers a chance to secure some defensive boards and then push the ball.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.