After dropping two consecutive games, the Los Angeles Lakers now start a quick two-game road trip, with the second game coming against the New Orleans Pelicans, spearheaded by Zion Williamson.
The Lakers and Pelicans have faced off once during this season back in mid-January when Los Angeles won in a 112-95 blowout. However, the context of that game is vastly different from today’s, especially regarding L.A. In that win, both teams played at almost full health.
Today, the Lakers are still without LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol. For the Pelicans, Lonzo Ball is questionable with a hip strain and JJ Redick is out with a heel issue.
Offensively, the Lakers might have to spice up the scheme. A heavy dosage of their offense against Phoenix on Sunday came from Montrezl Harrell operating on innumerable pick-and-rolls — side actions, up high, down the middle. For the most part, it contrived quality opportunities for Harrell, who finished the game with 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting.
However, the Pelicans pose a more substantial presence in the paint that may peg Harrell’s effectiveness. New Orleans ranks eighth in the league in points per game allowed in the paint (45.5), 0.4 away from ranking sixth. With Steven Adams, Jaxson Hayes and Williamson all controlling access to the interior, running pick-and-rolls will have to be more creative than simple screen-and-rolls to the basket.
This is where the Lakers’ shooters — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wesley Matthews, Markieff Morris, Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso — all need to elevate their performances. They need to stretch the Pelicans’ defense out to free up room in the paint, and if New Orleans’ defenders collapse on Harrell, Harrell can find his teammates with passes — the key for L.A. is to make their shots, a department they failed in against Phoenix.
Dennis Schroder and Talen Horton-Tucker helped Harrell shoulder the scoring burden against Phoenix and in the second half against the Atlanta Hawks, but doing so against New Orleans will be arduous. Both Ball and Eric Bledsoe are pesky, in-your-face defenders who have the size and wingspan to curtail and straight-up stop players from attacking the basket. Both Schroder and Horton-Tucker love to continuously attack the rim, but pulling up into jump shots will be imperative.
The Pelicans are an interesting group on offense, so the Lakers could find themselves embroiled in a tough interior battle on defense, too. The majority of the Pelicans’ offense stems from attacking the basket on drives — they rank ninth in the league in drives per game (50.3) and don’t often kick it out to the perimeter. Once they find a lane to attack, they keep the ball in the paint — 64.2% of their shots come from 2-pointers, ranking eighth in the NBA.
The amalgamation of Brandon Ingram’s mid-range jumpers and players like Williamson, Adams and Bledsoe attacking the paint play into those numbers.
On one hand, it helps L.A. narrow its focus on defense. But the Lakers are entering this game severely undermanned in the frontcourt, so where they lack on defense is where the Pelicans succeed and vice versa. L.A.’s guards must supply the big men with crucial help defense, whether it’s at the nail, on the weakside or even double-teaming players like Williamson, who the Lakers might struggle to stop without big bodies.
The Pelicans are already without Redick, so a team already scarce in 3-point attempts will see even fewer attempts from deep. That means L.A. must close out possessions and rebound the basketball to limit second-chance points. New Orleans is first in offensive box outs per game (2.8) and first in total offensive rebounds (11.8).
The Lakers saw against Atlanta how crucial it is to close out possessions, and if they’re not careful, the Pelicans can replicate that success. Harrell recently explained how Los Angeles needs to play with ‘more emphasis’ on defense, and this game would serve as a great way to start that.
The Pelicans may have an 18-24 record, but that needs to be thrown out the window for this contest. With the current rotation and form, the Lakers have their work cut out for them, and winning will take a collective effort.
Lakers (28-15) vs. Pelicans (18-24)
4:30 p.m. PT, March 23, 2021
Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Louisiana
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Wesley Matthews
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: Markieff Morris
Key Reserves: Montrezl Harrell, Talen Horton-Tucker, Alex Caruso, Alfonzo McKinnie
Projected Pelicans starting lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Eric Bledsoe
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Zion Williamson
C: Steven Adams
Key Reserves: Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Jaxson Hayes, Kira Lewis Jr.
Have you subscribed to our YouTube channel? It’s the best way to watch player interviews, exclusive coverage from events, participate in live shows, and more!