The Lakers continue to show grit and fighting spirit — there’s really no other way to explain their 9-9 record at this stage of the season, their latest win coming against the Hawks without D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. The team simply battles hard, does their best to execute the gameplan, and finds ways to either keep games close or pull ahead with timely runs (mostly by the hands of their destructive all-bench unit).
Tonight is another test, though. The Lakers are in New Orleans to play the Pelicans, starting a 4-game road trip and the first night of a back to back which lands them in the Windy City Wednesday. The Pelicans’ record is poor, but have been playing better lately after Jrue Holiday returned to action after managing family health issues. The Pelicans also have that Anthony Davis fellow. I hear he’s pretty good.
The Lakers are also likely to be short handed again. Randle did non-contact work in a recent practice, but missed Sunday’s game and implied he’ll be cautious in his return rather than be dealing with a “nagging” injury deeper into the season where there may be higher stakes to play for. Russell remains out, which has been manageable for stretches, but puts more pressure on Clarkson and Williams to play well, while hoping Calderon can be a net neutral on both ends.
All of this is doable, but I must stress again that this game cannot be judged by the team’s records. Since Holiday has returned, the Pelicans resemble the team many analysts pegged to compete for the 8th seed in the playoffs. Their differentials with him and Davis on the floor are a strong positive and Holiday’s two-way ability mean that Davis doesn’t have to carry such a huge load every night for them to get wins.
The Lakers, then, must not take this game lightly and again must focus on execution while bringing their top effort. Offensively they must continue to move the ball, looking to reverse and skip in order to get the defense into their rotations. The team has been running some “hammer” actions lately which do a good job of exploiting defenses loading up on the strong side, and they’d do well to try and continue that type of movement to get Calderon, Clarkson, Williams, and Young the types of open threes they can feast on.
The Lakers will also do well to push the tempo. Davis runs like a deer and with Holiday back they too can play faster, but the Pels also like to play two bigs often enough — their two most used lineups feature Davis and Omer Asik — that if the Lakers can get out in transition and stay disciplined in running their lanes to keep spacing, they can generate open looks against a not-yet-set defense.
Lastly, whenever you play a team with a great player it often comes down to making a choice: do you play the rest of the team tight and make the single great player beat you or do you send the house at the great player and make the other guys beat you?
Before Holiday came back, I would say the latter would be the better choice, but now I am not so sure. I am tempted to see what Thomas Robinson and Larry Nance can do to slow Davis and then do the best job possible to not let Holiday and crew get it going. When Walton was with the Warriors, this is the technique they deployed, though they had Draymond Green and the Lakers do not. Still, though, I might prefer to single cover Davis, help when needed, but really focus on making sharp rotations back to the other Pelicans to avoid them getting in a groove. We’ll see if Walton sees things similarly.
Where you can watch: 5pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.