All signs are pointing toward yet another lottery pick for the New Orleans Pelicans as the team trails the Oklahoma City Thunder by three wins with just nine games remaining. However, New Orleans owes its first-round pick to the Houston Rockets as it seemingly mortgaged its future far too soon. It all began to unravel when the Pelicans sent Nerlens Noel (the 6th pick in the 2013 Draft) and a 2014 first-round pick (turned out to be Elfrid Payton) buying high on point guard Jrue Holiday. Then, to pair Anthony Davis with a rim protector, New Orleans sent a 2015 first-round pick in exchange for impending free agent Omer Asik. The result, three lost lottery picks and a log jammed salary cap, which could become hazardous as Davis enters the final year of his rookie contract next season.
The traditional, back-to-the-basket center is a dying breed in the modern pace-and-space NBA. Although the league may experience an influx of talented centers in this year’s draft, today’s centers have one obligation – rim protection. This is exactly what center Omer Asik provides at the hefty price tag of $14.9 million. The Turkish native’s 7.5 points per game come majorly from offensive rebounds and put backs, as head coach Monty Williams does not run a single play for the 7-footer. In 26.2 minutes, Asik notches 9.9 rebounds per game with nearly a third of those coming on the offensive glass.
Witnessing Anthony Davis play a basketball game is poetry in motion. Thanks to a much-improved face up jump shot and an incredibly efficient pick-and-pop game, Davis averages 24.7 points per game on 54.1 percent shooting, which ranks fourth in the league. His array of post moves parlayed with a tremendous 6-foot-10 frame creates a truly unstoppable force that instills fear into the opposition. Yet, at just 22-years-old, Davis presents a maturity unmatched by his counterparts. Davis leads the NBA in blocks with 2.9 per game and rarely turns the ball over, despite a fairly high usage rate. There’s no telling how high Davis’ ceiling is at this point, but he can justifiably be labeled a potential all-timer.
The one constant on an injury-plagued Pelicans team has been swingman Tyreke Evans. The jury is still out on whether Evans is best suited as a starter or 20-minute energy guy off the bench primarily because of his lengthy history with inconsistency. Evans will flirt with a triple-double one night, then shoot 20 percent and turn the ball over seven times the next. Relying on such a streaky player to be the second best player in the juggernaut Western Conference spells doom. Although he is averaging a fruitful 16.7 points per game, it appears Evans will never live up to the expectations of a top 5 draft.
Believe it or not, Eric Gordon was once deemed the NBA’s next great shooting guard behind the likes of Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. Several knee injuries later, the prime years of Gordon’s career have been wrecked. His approximate $15 million annual salary is laughable considering his extreme lack of production. In the latter months of the 2014-15 season, though, Gordon has managed to string together a few key performances, proving the 26-year-old’s career is still salvageable. The shooting guard ranks second in three-point percentage, but hasn’t been able to replicate the craftiness around the basket that made him so special years ago.
While Jrue Holiday continues to nurse a leg injury, head coach Monty Williams has opted to start Quincy Pondexter alongside Gordon in the backcourt. Pondexter is a career bench player, who has witnessed a drastic inflation in his minutes since being traded from the Memphis Grizzlies in January. In his starting role, Pondexter has played the best basketball of his career posting averages of 8.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game in a Pelicans uniform. Pondexter can nail the long ball with ease and is coming off five straight double-digit scoring nights.
Keys To Victory:
Guard Play: Los Angeles backcourt has kept the team competitive in March, particularly the combination of Jordan Clarkson and Jeremy Lin. The duo combined for 30 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds per game last month, which could be enough to upset the bewildered Pelicans backcourt.
Rim Protection: Byron Scott decided to sit Ed Davis the past two contests to further evaluate Robert Sacre and Tarik Black, sacrificing the team’s only true rim protector. This wasn’t a big deal against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, but Brook Lopez thrashed the Lakers for 30 points and 11 rebounds on Sunday as a result. Davis’ status is unknown for Wednesday night, but if Scott plans on competing, it would be in his best interest to play Davis.
Offensive Boards: The combination of Asik and Davis up front poses a matchup terror. The duo combines for over 20 rebounds per game as opposed to slightly under nine for Kelly and Black. A huge piece to Los Angeles success lately has been Black’s put back dunks off of offensive rebounds. It’s a minor facet of the game, but could potentially sway it toward the Lakers.
Los Angeles Lakers (20-53) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (39-34)
7:30 PM PST, April 1, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Pelicans Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Tyreke Evans
SG: Eric Gordon
SF: Quincy Pondexter
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Omer Asik
Key Reserves: SG: Norris Cole PF: Dante Cunningham C: Alexis Ajinca
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Jordan Clarkson
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ryan Kelly
C: Tarik Black