The Los Angeles Lakers host the Brandon Ingram-led New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday, squaring off in an important matchup for both teams’ positions in the standings.
Both teams face the prospects of Play-In Tournament participation, putting pressure on them to gather as many wins as possible before the end of the regular season. The Pelicans are currently 1.0 games away from 10th place, the last one that guarantees a spot in the tournament.
Meanwhile, the Lakers have fallen 2.5 games behind the L.A. Clippers in eight and 7.5 games behind the Western Conference’s top-6. Teams with the seventh and eighth-best records will only need one play-in win to qualify for the postseason.
Besides Kendrick Nunn and Anthony Davis, the Lakers will play without Avery Bradley, who still suffers from knee swelling. The Pelicans will have to cope without Kira Lewis Jr., Larry Nance Jr., and Zion Williamson.
But Ingram will face the Lakers with a co-star by his side in CJ McCollum, whom the Pelicans acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers earlier this month. McCollum has been brilliant since arriving in New Orleans, averaging 29.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.2 assists while shooting 52.8% from the field and 41.3% from beyond the arc.
The Ingram-McCollum duo made the Pelicans the NBA’s seventh-best offense in the six games they have played together. However, defensive vulnerabilities allowed New Orleans to rack up just two wins during that stretch.
Particularly, the Pelicans have given up 17.2 second-chance points per game, the most in the league — making a case for Dwight Howard’s second straight start. In the recent loss to the Clippers, Howard ended up with 14 points and 16 rebounds, nine of which came in the opponents’ paint.
Second-chance points could prove invaluable for the Lakers, as they might find it difficult to use their most dangerous weapon against the Pelicans: transition offense. New Orleans has allowed just 7.3 fastbreak points per game since McCollum arrived, in big part thanks to the defensive prowess of rookie forward Herb Jones.
Jones has been one of the most impactful defensive players in the league this season, using his basketball IQ and physicality to force plenty of turnovers — and turning a fair share of them into points.
The league’s best team of the regular season, the Phoenix Suns, experienced that first hand recently. Jones’ three steals helped New Orleans beat the Suns 117-102 on Friday, inflicting just third loss of 2022 on Phoenix.
A determined and talented opponent awaits the Lakers on Sunday, making it a tricky matchup. The Purple and Gold need to step up against the Pelicans, as they can hardly afford another defeat at the hands of a team seemingly headed for the play-in tournament with them.
Lakers (27-32) vs. Pelicans (24-36)
7:00 p.m. PT, Feb. 27, 2022
Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, California
TV: ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Austin Reaves
SF: LeBron James
PF: Trevor Ariza
C: Dwight Howard
Key Reserves: Talen Horton-Tucker, Malik Monk, Carmelo Anthony, Wayne Ellington
Projected Pelicans Starting Lineup:
PG: CJ McCollum
SG: Brandon Ingram
SF: Herb Jones
PF: Jaxson Hayes
C: Jonas Valanciunas
Key Reserves: Tony Snell, Devonte’ Graham, Jose Alvarado, Naji Marshall
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