LOS ANGELES — It was an eventful Thursday for the Los Angeles Lakers. Maybe the trading deadline wasn’t really that as the Lakers made no moves. But the team unveiled the first of three Kobe Bryant statues that afternoon. And then the Lakers ended the night with a loss to the defending champion Denver Nuggets to fall to one game above .500.
The Lakers won’t get much rest, though, as they go back to Crypto Dot Com to play some ball against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night.
The Lakers have played the Pellies twice this season. The first one wasn’t initially on the schedule; the two teams played on December 7th in the semifinals of the In-Season Tournament that took place in Las Vegas. L.A. absolutely obliterated New Orleans by 44 points.
The second match-up happened on the last day of 2023. The Pelicans returned the favor by defeating the Lakers by 20. So we haven’t exactly had compelling games thus far.
So Round 3 is happening in Los Angeles. The Pelicans are not a joke at 30-21 although they’re currently not in the upper tier of the West. But a trio that includes Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and CJ McCollum can instill confidence. And we know what they bring to the table: Zion has terrifying strength, Ingram has great length and all-around skill, and CJ is a sniper. Once that potential is realized, the Pelicans can move into that top shelf in the Western Conference.
But they have a great support system, too. Trey Murphy III has been back for a bit after his knee injury. Once he’s most comfortable, the Pelicans have another shooter that teams will worry about. Jonas Valanciunas (though questionable along with Zion for this game) continues to make things difficult for other teams inside. And the Pelicans bench has a lot of options. Former Laker Larry Nance, Jr. provides rebounding and some shooting. Naji Marshall works hard on both ends. Rookie Jordan Hawkins is a versatile scorer. Herb Jones gives fits on the defensive end. And we know Jose Alvarado will steal your lunch the minute you turn away. This Pels team is deep.
The Pelicans are also in the Top 10 in defensive rating. So things are taking shape in New Orleans. They have the depth. They have the talent. Now maybe what they need is more continuity and experience and they’ll be talked about as a Western Conference main event squad.
The Lakers in the In-Season tourney looked like they were in God mode. We knew how they were in that run; no team seemed able to touch them. And we know what’s happened ever since then. The Lakers have struggled to find that consistency, especially when it comes to their energy, which has affected their defense so much. And yes, they’ll go for a period (including the last four games, even in that Denver loss) where they looked like they can take on anyone. But as seen against Houston and Atlanta, they can easily turn back into pumpkins.
The two stars haven’t been the problem against New Orleans this season; it’s more about getting the help from the others. And in that second match-up, the Pelicans scored 42 in the first and sank 17 threes for the game. I’ve talked about the Lakers leaving shooters open. Not defending the three well cost them dearly against Denver on Thursday night.
We’re past the trading deadline so it’s time for the Lakers to make a push. They had a semblance of that as they have won three of the last four. But if they want to be taken seriously, they should get back to what they were doing during the run to the In-Season Tournament championship. Maybe someone should tell them that some NBA player pocket change is on the line again.