After defeating the Charlotte Hornets for their first win of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers hit the road to take on the Memphis Grizzlies. They fought valiantly, but came up just short in their attempt to pull off the upset. Despite suffering such a tough loss, the team must quickly shift their attention to another difficult matchup as they will face the New Orleans Pelicans (3-3) on the second night of a back-to-back. In their most recent game, the Pelicans lost by a score of 118-111 on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Frontcourt: At this point, everyone should know about rising young superstar Anthony Davis. The 21-year-old’s performance in the early going of the season already has people talking about not if, but when he will take the torch and title of the league’s best player away from Cavaliers forward LeBron James. There is justification to these claims, considering the minimal amount of weakness that can be identified in Davis’ game. He currently sits at 4th in the league in scoring (24.8), 1st in rebounds (13.0), 5th in steals (2.5) and 1st in blocks (4.2). A massive amount of hype surrounds Davis, but he’s easily living up to the praise on his way to becoming a dominant force in the NBA.
Patrolling the paint next to Davis is newcomer Omer Asik, who was acquired via trade with the Houston Rockets during the offseason. The big man understands his role as a defensive specialist and rebounder, but has chipped in 9.5 points per game to go with his 10.3 rebounds. Listed at 7’0″, 255 pounds, Asik possesses great size for a center, which presents a challenge for the smaller Laker front line of keeping him and Davis off the glass. However, Asik is a poor free throw shooter at 55.6 percent on the year, so this very well could be used against the Pelicans if the Lakers elect to foul him in order to prevent some easy scoring opportunities around the basket.
Tyreke Evans is now in his second season with New Orleans, manning the small forward position. Evans has been stuffing the stat sheet this season, tallying averages of 15.8 points, 7.2 boards and 6.5 assists per game. The bad news for the Pelicans is that he is shooting a dreadful 36.4 percent from the field through the first six games, although he has hit nine of his 20 three point tries. Evans likes to get out in transition and finish an the basket or set up a teammate, so it’s important that the Lakers minimize his opportunities out on the break and force him to be effective in half court sets, presumably by taking care of the basketball.
Backcourt: The Pelicans’ backcourt was plagued by injuries last season. The primary recipient of the injury bug was point guard Jrue Holiday, who only appeared in 34 games because of a stress fracture in his right tibia. Since his All-Star appearance in 2013 as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, Holiday’s numbers have taken a slight dip as he adjusted to a new system last year, and now continues to work his way back from a major leg injury. Despite his recent struggles, Holiday is certainly still a threat as a well-rounded point guard that the Lakers will need to keep in check.
Speaking of struggles, Holiday’s backcourt running mate, Eric Gordon, has gotten off to an extremely slow start to the season. Gordon’s 7.8 points per contest through the first six games is nearly 10 points worse than his career average. Even more worrisome for New Orleans is his abysmal 29.3 shooting percentage, including a clip of 19 percent from beyond the arc. Gordon’s offensive numbers may be down, but the Lakers have been inferior on the defensive end thus far, which could be just what he needs to get back on track if they aren’t careful.
Keys to Victory:
Win the Rebounding Battle: The Pelicans are among the best rebounding teams in the league, grabbing the 5th highest amount per game. However, they also allow the largest quantity by their opponents. A combination of Davis and Asik will be tough for the Lakers to contain on the glass, so the team will need a collective effort from all five players if they want to prevent second chance opportunities for New Orleans while providing some for themselves. If the Lakers allow the Pelicans to control the glass, the former will be in for a long night.
Protect the Paint on Defense: Only five different players have knocked down a three point shot for New Orleans so far this season and just two of those players have an impressive percentage. The focus on defense should be to pack the paint and force the Pelicans to shoot perimeter jump shots, seeing as they have done the majority of their offensive damage this year from inside the arc. If the Lakers are able to accomplish this, they have to be wary of long rebounds, meaning the guards will need to be alert after the shot goes up. In addition, the Lakers will be at a major disadvantage with the matchup of Carlos Boozer against Davis, which may require frequent double teams to keep him from getting easy buckets inside. Expect to see the Lakers double him up at times, forcing a poor perimeter shooter to try and beat them from the outside.
Move the Basketball: In their lone victory against the Hornets, the Lakers buried 42 shots from the field with 28 of those coming off assists, ultimately leading to a shooting percentage of 51.2. Kobe Bryant took a tolerable 20 shots on the night while three other starters had double figures in shot attempts, resulting in a balanced scoring attack for the purple and gold. The Lakers will need to replicate this type of approach if they hope to neutralize a defensive phenomenon like Davis as much as possible and earn a road victory against the up-and-coming Pelicans.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are 10.5-point underdogs against the Pelicans according to Sportsbook.ag.
Los Angeles Lakers (1-6) at New Orleans Pelicans (3-3)
5:00 PM PST, November 12, 2014
Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Pelicans Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Jrue Holiday
SG: Eric Gordon
SF: Tyreke Evans
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Omer Asik
Key Reserves: SG: Austin Rivers, PF: Ryan Anderson
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Jordan Hill
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