The Los Angeles Lakers’ rough March continues as they head to New Orleans to face Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. This is the 11th game this month, with 10 coming against playoff teams. And while the Lakers have lost three straight, the Pelicans have won three in a row as they try to solidify their playoff spot.
Of course the main component of that is Davis who, in a normal year where James Harden wasn’t at an unreal level, would be a very real MVP candidate. Davis is averaging 28.2 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks this season as he has shown himself to be a true two-way force.
Julius Randle will have his hands full trying to contain Davis, but the same can be said the other way around as Randle continues to be the Lakers’ best player over the last month. He is averaging 26 points and 11.6 rebounds on 63 percent shooting in the last five games and this match-up of former Kentucky Wildcats will be the biggest one to watch.
With Brandon Ingram still out due to a strained groin, the offensive load will continue to fall on a select few Lakers. Randle’s frontcourt mates, Brook Lopez and Kyle Kuzma, have been up to the task of late.
Lopez is averaging 20 points and 5.8 rebounds while hitting almost 55 percent from the field and 50 percent from deep over the last five games. Kuzma, meanwhile, has scored over 25 points in two of his last three contests and seems to be regaining his early season form.
However, the Lakers will need much more from their backcourt if they plan on ending this losing streak, particularly from point guards Lonzo Ball and Isaiah Thomas. Ball’s offensive issues have come back in a big way as he’s shooting just 33.6 percent in the month of March.
He has continued to impact the game in other ways, which is a great sign, but he must be more of a threat on offense, especially with Ingram out, something both he and Luke Walton have alluded to.
Thomas continues to be hit or miss in his time with the Lakers and has struggled with his shot as well as turnovers. He could be looking for some revenge on this night considering the last time these two teams met, Thomas was ejected (albeit very questionably) after an altercation with Rajon Rondo.
Rondo is one of the two point guards who starts and plays major minutes for the Pelicans, along with Jrue Holiday. Rondo is the facilitator while Holiday is the scorer. It will be imperative for the Lakers to try and force them to switch roles, especially when it comes to Rondo.
Those are only two of a number of Pelicans role players who can affect the game. E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller are the spot-up shooters who can’t be left alone. Same can be said for Nikola Mirotic who also creates match-up problems because of his size. Cheick Diallo is an athletic, high-energy big man and Ian Clark is a smart slasher who always seems to make the right play.
One major key for the Lakers in this contest is their size and dominance in the paint. New Orleans tends to go small, playing starting center Emeka Okafor just a few minutes while Davis operates as the center for the majority of the night.
But if Lopez and Randle continue to play at their recent level, New Orleans would need to have Okafor’s size on the court to counteract it, or risk those two owning the paint.
Something else that could play into the Lakers’ favor is the fact that they’ve had a couple days off since their last game while the Pelicans wile be on a back-to-back. Due to injuries, the Lakers have basically been playing their starters and Thomas huge minutes which is wearing them down. Having a little rest could play a big role against a Pelicans team fighting for homecourt in the playoffs.
Three Keys to Lakers Victory
Win the 3-Point Battle: New Orleans is a good, but not great 3-point shooting team, and the Lakers have had games, especially recently, where they have been hot from deep. Thomas, Kuzma, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will need to lead the barrage from deep, and if they can get anything from Ball, it will be that much better.
Turnovers and Fouls: It’s been a major point of contention all season and it remains the same here. If the Lakers can take care of the ball and defend without fouling, they can hang with any team in the NBA as they have proven. But if those issues continue, it could be another long night.
Randle vs. Davis: It may be asking a lot considering Davis is a likely All-NBA First Team player this season, but if Randle can match his play, or even better, get him in foul trouble and limit his minutes, the Lakers have a real shot at a huge road win.
Los Angeles Lakers (31-39) Vs. New Orleans Pelicans (42-30):
5:00 P.M. PST, March 22, 2018
Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Louisiana
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Kyle Kuzma
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Isaiah Thomas, Travis Wear, Ivica Zubac, Tyler Ennis
Projected Pelicans Starting Lineup:
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Jrue Holiday
SF: E’Twaun Moore
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Emeka Okafor
Key Reserves: Nikola Mirotic, Darius Miller, Ian Clark, Cheick Diallo
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