Records: Lakers 27-7, Pelicans 11-23
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.8 (4th), Pelicans 107.7 (19th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.8 (5th-Tied), Pelicans 112.0 (24th-Tied)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
Pelicans: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes
Injuries: Lakers: Alex Caruso (out); Pelicans: Zion Williamson (out), Darius Miller (out)
The Lakers coming in: After losing 4 in a row, the Lakers have won 3 straight games — their last a win over the Suns in what truly was a stupid game. The Lakers were up by as many as 36 points early in the 3rd quarter, only to slowly give up that lead to as few as 7 points in the 4th quarter before LeBron and AD were forced to come back into game late to restore order.
On the injury front, Alex Caruso is out this game due to a sore calf. Caruso also didn’t play the entire 2nd half of the Suns game and has missed parts of other games this year because of this issue, so the hope is that he can get right before coming back fully healthy. Caruso remains an important part of the team, even if he’s only a reserve and very likely the first guard to have his minutes reduced should any of the Rondo/KCP/Bradley trio show they’re having a particularly good night.
Beyond these issues, the Lakers are what they’ve shown to be most of the year and there’s not much to add on them at this point. They’ve been linked to Darren Collison who is considering coming out of retirement and there was a report today that teams around the league are doing their “due diligence” on Kyle Kuzma as a potential trade target, but those are topics to be explored more fully when we get closer to February.
The Pelicans coming in: The Pelicans have won 4 in a row and now find themselves only 3.5 games out of the 8th seed in the West. They’ve still a bunch of work to do, but the return of Derrick Favors has helped solidify their defense and some good shooting from Lonzo Ball, continued strong play from Brandon Ingram, and a tweak to their starting lineup (moving Redick to the starting 5 to go along with Holiday, BI, and Lonzo) has the team showing good spacing on O and good activity defensively.
The good news for the Pelicans doesn’t stop there as Zion Williams is reportedly nearing his return after having surgery for a torn meniscus in early October. The original 8-10 week timeline for Zion’s return has already passed, but with news coming out the team is hopeful he’ll return this month and Zion going through his first full practice this week, things are clearly ramping up.
Once Zion is back in the fold, the Pelicans will likely have a few weeks to make a determination on whether to push hard for the post season this year, become a seller at the trade deadline, or ride things out this year as is and see if they can regroup next season. There’s always some risk in whatever path they choose, but if they can continue to win at a reasonable rate, the 8th seed in the West seems totally attainable and it seems like they’d want to try to get in there considering the expectations placed on this team before the year began.
Keys to the game: There’s a lot to consider this game, but the winner will likely be decided by two factors:
- Who controls the tempo?
- Can the Lakers exert their size advantage or will the Pels perimeter based game win out?
The Lakers don’t necessarily have to play slow this game, but even if they push the pace, they cannot let this game become frantic. With Jrue, Lonzo, and Ingram running around out there, the Pelicans would be best suited playing an up and down game where turnovers and quick shots lead to a frenetic pace that tilts on out of control. In this environment, they can prey on Lakers turnovers, get some easy baskets, and just disrupt the flow of the game.
The Lakers can counter this by playing to their advantages in the post and, in general, leveraging their size to control half court possessions while strategically running on forced turnovers and missed shots. If the Pelicans start their small lineup, they can play through AD and LeBron in the mid and low post, making Ingram and Jrue defend 15 feet and in rather than on the perimeter. The Lakers can also go to 2-man game action between LeBron/AD and either force switches, or put Ingram into hedge and recover situations with LeBron turning the corner on him.
If the Lakers can play bully ball, it will force help from the Pelicans weakside defenders and open up perimeter shots for the Green/Bradley/KCP group. If those guys can hit shots, this game can get out of hand quickly. If they can’t, things could get interesting — particularly if the Pelicans find their range from outside.
Lastly, do not be surprised if the Pelicans go zone this game to counter the Lakers size and to force LA’s shooters to hit semi-contested 3’s. If this happens, the Lakers need to put LeBron or AD at the nail and play through the middle of the floor where they can threaten the rim after one dribble, play high-low, or kickout to wide open shooters when the zone collapses to the paint. The easiest way to beat a zone is to score on the first 2 or 3 possessions against it. After that, coaches get queasy and go back to their normal schemes.
The Lakers are hitting a stretch where they have a few under .500 teams on their schedule in a row. After the Suns on Wednesday and the Pelicans tonight, they have the Pistons and Knicks on Sunday and Tuesday respectively before going out on the road to Dallas (again?!) and OKC on a Friday/Saturday back-to-back. In other words, take care of business against these teams and the Lakers could have another nice winning streak before heading back out away from home.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN.
*All stats via stats.nba.com