After an uninspiring defeat against the Celtics which saw the opposition execute showboat lobs and control the action pretty much all night, the Lakers are back in action against the Pelicans tonight at Staples. The Lakers will get an up close look at the remade NOLA team, who swapped Buddy Hield, additional backcourt depth, and a 1st round pick for DeMarcus Cousins on All-Star Sunday night.
Despite the addition of the All-NBA big man, however, the Pelicans — like the Lakers — have struggled since the trade deadline only posting a single win in that period. Of course the Lakers are winless in that same period so both teams are looking for answers, though in different ways…
This game intrigues, then, for a variety of reasons. The Pelicans are 4 games out of the 8th seed with only 20 games left to play. They would need to hurdle 5 teams to get into the post-season, so they are pretty much out unless they go on the unlikeliest of runs down the stretch. The pick they owe the Kings as part of the Cousins deal is top-3 protected, but they are four games up in the loss column over the currently 3rd worst Suns, making keeping their pick reliant on lottery luck than any sort of “tank” job they can pull over their remaining games.
The Lakers too are watching the standings. After back to back wins by the Suns, the Lakers are alone in “2nd” which is about as good as it’s going to get from a positioning standpoint. No one is catching the Nets for worst record overall. The Lakers, then, would benefit from staying exactly where they are which also means carrying that burden of playing just well enough to see “progress” in the ways they measure such things without actually getting any victories to show for their efforts. As a fan, being in this place for the 4th straight season isn’t ideal, but as the old saying of ambivalence goes it is what it is.
So, who wants to actually win this game? The answer might really be no one, though I’d bet the Pelicans really want to see their twin-towers experiment start to pay dividends sooner than later. Cousins is a free agent in 15 months and while the price they paid to get him wasn’t high, you’d think keeping him to pair with Davis is a priority for them. So, even though they’re an incomplete team right now — lacking the guard and wing depth necessary to really maximize their bigs — they need to play hard and find a path towards being competitive.
How this translates to the floor tonight intrigues me quite a bit. The Lakers should have the advantage on the wing, but should struggle to contain Davis and Boogie. The latter has given them issues all season regardless of who they’ve thrown at him. Black has proven too foul prone and Zubac too inexperienced and young. Based on the current rotation, that leaves only Nance and Randle to deal with the former King and we haven’t even talked about Davis and all the issues he presents yet.
I am interested, then, in seeing whether the Lakers’ guards/wings can make hay against their Pels’ counterparts at a level to neutralize the advantage NOLA’s bigs will have. If Russell, Clarkson, Young, and Ingram cannot hit shots, I see Boogie Brow Productions causing too many issues for the Lakers to win the game.
Maybe that’s a good thing in the long run. But we’re getting to the point where I again worry about the team’s young players putting in the work and trying to establish winning habits only to not see any rewards for those efforts. In the long run maybe that matters little if the reward is a Fultz, Ball, or Josh Jackson level talent. But I also think it takes a specific sort of optimism to continue framing these L’s as a positive. An optimism that can be hard to muster certain days.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.