The Lakers are coming off a fun 132-130 win over the Suns and are looking to keep things rolling against the winless (0-2) Pelicans. The good news is that the Lakers are back at home and the Pelicans are coming off a cross country flight after losing to the Warriors on Friday. More good news is that the Pelicans haven’t yet won a game, sitting at 0-2.
Unfortunately, the bad news is that the Pelicans have Anthony Davis. And DeMarcus Cousins. And Jrue Holiday. They may not have much more than that (Rajon Rondo and several other rotation players are injured), but when you have three players the quality of them — especially Davis and Cousins who are two of the best bigs in the league — some nights you don’t need much more.
The question, then, is whether the Lakers have enough defensively in the front court and depth across the rest of their rotation to manage NOLA’s twin-towers and secondary units which will be shallow on strong NBA talent.
My gut feeling is that they don’t.
Brook Lopez and Larry Nance will battle hard and will offer some resistance on both ends of the floor. Lopez can draw one of Davis/Cousins away from the rim and Nance’s mobility and general activity defensively should aid in his attempts to bother Davis. Lopez’s size should also help against Cousins, but, let’s be real, he and Davis are monsters offensively and teams need to throw more than individual defenders at both to slow them.
This is where the Pelicans lack of depth can hurt them. At this point, their best non-big 3 players are E’Twaun Moore and Ian Clark. Jordan Crawford can also get buckets (and he did against the Warriors), but that’s not exactly a murderer’s row of talent. The Lakers will need to have discipline in how and when they help off of these guys, but overall I think L.A. would be more than happy to force these guys to beat them rather than have Cousins, Davis, and Holiday eat them up.
Regardless of how well the Pelicans put together their own offensive attack, I’m looking for some carryover from the Lakers offense. While I do not expect Lonzo to score 29 points or for Ingram to hit shots like he did the last game, I do hope to see similar styles from each guy.
For Ball, that means making the right pass/shoot reads depending on what the defense does. If his defender goes under picks, I’d like to see him be aggressive with his jumper and taking open 3’s. If his man chases over the top, I want him attacking the hedge man to either get to the rim or draw enough help to create open opportunities for his teammates. Lonzo’s a smart player and I think he’s more than capable of making these reads, but it’s going to be a different deal today against a combination of Holiday and Davis/Cousins than it was against the Suns.
As for Ingram, I want him catching the ball more on the move in general in order to give him momentum to get to the rim. When these actions aren’t possible, I want him operating on the weakside, where he can attack closeouts or shoot open jumpers against late ones. These are the actions Ingram is showing to be best in and I hope the coaches use him this way.
Lastly, I want to see more from Julius Randle today. I get that he’s frustrated at not starting. And while I don’t know enough about how his move to the bench was communicated, I understand him being in a contract year + him still being at the stage of his career where he’s still out to prove himself as a frontline player makes it so however the message was delivered it’s not likely to be accepted well. For those things, I look at Walton even more than Randle because part of being a head coach is understanding your players, their mindsets, and then navigating those to generate and maintain buy-in.
For Randle, though, the only thing he can control here is his own effort and game. As best he can he needs to compartmentalize things and find his way back to being the impactful player he was during the preseason and how he played last year.
Play fast, play strong, and be a good teammate on both ends of the floor. He did that plenty as a bench player in exhibition games and the team was better for it. Now that the real games have started, he needs to get back to that. I understand the context which makes this hard, I also know when it comes right down to it, few people are going to give him much benefit of the doubt with that. If he wants more minutes or a bigger role, he’s going to have to show it through his play.
The Lakers could really use a big game from Randle tonight, especially when you consider the strength of the Pelicans roster and their overall depth situation. All else being equal, him playing well could be the difference between a win or a loss. I want to see him bring it.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.