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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans to face new-look Los Angeles Lakers in last matchup before All-Star Weekend

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Chance for a three-game winning streak!

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Lakers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

With one game left before the All-Star break, the New Orleans Pelicans are set to face Isaiah Thomas and the remodeled Los Angeles Lakers.

Since DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending injury, with the additions of Nikola Mirotic and Emeka Okafor, the Pelicans have shown of recent that they can compete. In the last matchup against the Pistons, New Orleans eclipsed 30 assists for the 16th time this season. That is same number of times as the last three seasons combined.

Okafor received another 10-day contract from the Pelicans after taking on a starting role in Detroit, his first since the 2011 NBA season, and posting 8 points and 7 rebounds in 13 minutes. It is a tall feat to replace Cousins’ playmaking ability, but playoff hopes are not a long shot in the face of such adversity.

Isaiah Thomas, who the Lakers acquired in a trade deadline move with the Cavaliers, scored 22 points in his debut with Los Angeles on February 10. In 30 minutes of play, Thomas shot 58.3 percent from the field, 4-of-8 from deep, and assisted on six baskets. Thomas is a notable defensive liability, something the New Orleans backcourt — especially Jrue Holiday — will look to attack during this Valentine’s Day special.

Last time these two teams met each other, New Orleans took a 119-112 early-season road victory over the Lakers. Anthony Davis led the way with 27 points and 17 rebounds. E’Twaun Moore also proved valuable with 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field. However, Los Angeles had three players with 20-plus points in Jordan Clarkson (24) *now a Cavalier*, Kyle Kuzma (20) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (20). Defensive intensity has been a point of improvement for the Pelicans all season and must be again against the Lakers to keep this matchup favorable.

By the Numbers:

Los Angeles is second in the league in fast break points with 17.1 per contests, only behind the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Not only that, but the Lakers are also second in the league in rebounds per game (46.4) and second chance points per game (14.4). New Orleans’ ability to attack the glass under-manned and limit turnovers will be critical.

This game will be nothing less than a battle in the paint, as Los Angeles and New Orleans lead the league in points in the paint with 53.1 and 50.3 points respectively. If the Pelicans can control the pace and move the basketball as an indication why they sit only behind the Warriors themselves in assists per game, maybe New Orleans will see a three-game winning streak into the break. But make no mistake, it’s not that simple against this young, budding Lakers team.

Mardi Gras fever may still be wearing off, but tip-off is set for February 14 at 7 p.m. CT in the Smoothie King Center. Catch it live or tune into Fox Sports New Orleans.