Lakers Vs. Pelicans: LeBron Returns For Final Game Before All-Star Break
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers face the New Orleans Pelicans at home on Wednesday in a crucial Western Conference battle, the final game before the All-Star break. A loss for the Lakers would put them 5 games out of the No. 7 seed and potentially 3.5 out of the last Play-In spot if Utah wins its game on Wednesday.

The Lakers have two wins since January and have lost 4 of their last 5 games. Meanwhile, the Pelicans snapped their 11-game losing streak with a win against L.A. on Feb. 4 and since then have gone 3-1.

LeBron James returns for the Lakers after missing three straight games with left ankle soreness. He has not played since breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record last Tuesday. It will be his first game with new additions D’Angelo Russell, Jared Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley as well as Mo Bamba, who is making his team debut after finishing up his suspension.

Some within the organization are concerned about LeBron’s workload and running him ‘into the ground.’ He’s currently averaging 36.4 minutes per game at age 38, the seventh most in the league. Every player ahead of James is younger than 31. With a playoff push looming, there’s no guarantee that those minutes will decrease.

Everyone else is available for the Lakers, including Anthony Davis who was listed as probable with a right foot stress injury.

The Pelicans come into the matchup slightly hobbled. Zion Williamson is still out with a right hamstring strain while Larry Nance Jr., Dyson Daniels and E.J. Liddell are also out.

L.A. and New Orleans have played each other tightly in two matchups this season. The series is tied 1-1 with an average differential of four points. A win for the Lakers would ensure they don’t lose the season series, which could be important if placement in the Play-In standings comes to a tie.

These are fairly similar teams statistically but are heading in different directions. After a deep plunge in the standings, New Orleans is reaching sea level. The Lakers are still struggling to find any consistency on both sides of the ball. A strong L.A. defense to start the season has plateaued in recent games.

The Lakers have steamrolled to 26th in opposing points allowed. Teams have been putting up big points against the Lakers, including the Pelicans who had 131 in their win. Portland erupted from deep against L.A. on Monday causing added concerns on defense. But, L.A. is still top-five in opposing 3-point percentage.

Brandon Ingram will become the focal point of the offense with Williamson and McCollum out. Ingram torched the Lakers in New Orleans with 35 points on 15-of-28 shooting. He’s averaging 25 points per game against the Lakers in his career, the highest average against any team in the NBA.

In dire need of a win and with key players out for the Pelicans, this could be a good way to build momentum for the Lakers going into the All-Star break. However, this Lakers team has proved time and again that nothing can be set in stone.

L.A.’s playoff hopes are rapidly falling and a loss will make the week-long break more bitter than sweet.

Los Angeles Lakers (26-32) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (30-28)

7 p.m. PT, Feb. 15, 2023 Arena
TV: ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA

Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:

PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Malik Beasley
SF: LeBron James
PF: Jarred Vanderbilt
C: Anthony Davis

Key Reserves: Dennis Schroder, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr., Lonnie Walker IV, Mo Bamba

Projected Pelicans Starting Lineup:

PG: CJ McCollum
SG: Herb Jones
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Trey Murphy III
C: Jonas Valanciunas

Key Reserves: Jose Alvarado, Josh Richardson, Naji Marshall, Kira Lewis Jr., Jaxson Hayes

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