The moment is finally here for your Thanksgiving Eve enjoyment, and its importance is being downplayed across the New Orleans Pelicans organization.
Six-time NBA All-Star and former No. 1 pick Anthony Davis makes his return to New Orleans with early MVP candidate LeBron James and the league-leading Los Angeles Lakers (15-2). With that alone, it’s naturally the biggest game a gelling Pelicans team has seen all season. Whether an attempt is made to downplay such either way, the situation doesn’t bring much additional animosity for those involved. But for those merely spectating, well, animosity is probably all they’ll have to offer Davis as a welcome back to the Smoothie King Center.
On the Pelicans’ side, three former Lakers will have to face the team that introduced them to the league for the first time. Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram were brought to the Crescent City as part of the package which obliged Davis’ Jan. 2018 trade request. Since then, Ingram has become one of the most efficient volume scorers in the league — even more so than Davis in terms of points per possession to this point of the schedule despite both averaging the same number of possessions per game (24.2).
Think it’s safe to say Ingram’s check is already waiting from him at the end of this season?
Lonzo Ball was sent home from practice Tuesday due to a stomach virus, and his status for Wednesday’s matchup has yet to become clear. However, the good news is that Ball has not been listed on the team’s injury/illness report. Only Zion Williamson and Darius Miller currently remain out. Derrick Favors (left lower back spasms) has finally been upgraded to questionable after missing Tuesday’s practice, joining Hart (left ankle sprain) who is also a game-time decision.
“I just tell them they’ve got to play and play their game,” Gentry said of the former Lakers trio going up against their previous squad. “Obviously, you don’t want to get outside the box. We’ve got to try to be consistent in what we’re doing. We’re playing against the best team in the league if you’re talking record-wise. You have to be as mistake-free as you can possibly be, and you have to find a way to create some offense to score some points, but we’re playing against a great team.”
This group is clearly still reaching their potential, still immersing themselves in a new free-flowing system. It’s hasn’t been a fast-track fix to all the Pelicans’ problems, but considering where the franchise could have been without landing the No. 1 overall pick yet again and David Griffin’s negotiation tactics, it’s still been a promising start. New pieces are in place to carry the franchise forward, and one of them at the forefront feels he has nothing to prove.
“Who are we proving a point to?” Ingram asked. “There’s no bad blood. It’s all respect to [the Lakers]. That’s the organization that drafted us. They made our dream come true. It’s the same thing. We know in any game we have to be the aggressor coming in in every night, on the defensive end first of all. I think that helps out the rhythm of our offense, so we’re going to try to come in aggressive and help that be our identity for every game.”
Ingram has already proven his point – both with his play on the court and his evaluation of his new home. Maybe not a direct shot at the Lakers, but he has referenced the professionalism, positive attitudes and lack of ego surrounding New Orleans as a major positive during such a drastic transition. Regarding his approach to Wednesday, Ingram says he’s trying to stay relaxed and present the same level of consistence displayed thus far.
Ingram’s ability to aggressively attack the rim, penetrate opposing defenses and kick out to the open man will be critical every night for New Orleans going forward, and it’s still a learning process, but the tone he decides to set as a leader will be what makes the biggest impact.
“I know everybody wants to make a big deal out of this thing,” Gentry said. “But we’re playing against a really good basketball team with one guy that’s a top-five player in the league and the other guy is maybe the best player that’s ever played the game – other than one other guy that you would probably argue against. That’s what we should be talking about. All the other outside stuff doesn’t really matter anyway.”
Familiarity will present no advantage to Gentry in preparation for this one. Even LeBron’s 17-year record on tape and the long relationship with Davis won’t be enough insight to stop this Lake Show alone.
Los Angeles is sharing the ball and knocking down shots at an elite rate, ranking third and fifth respectively in field goal percentage (47.9) and assists (26.6) per game. The Lakers are also one of four teams currently top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency along with the Bucks, Raptors and hometown-rival Clippers. Not to mention the Lakers can be found in the NBA’s top third when it comes to points off turnovers (19.1), second-chance points (15.8), fast-break points (15.4) and points in the paint (52.5) — with New Orleans ranked among the bottom five in allowing each of those categories listed.
Gentry mentioned the need for a mistake-free approach, and that can’t be expressed enough. Maybe a thunderstorm from deep, an area the Pelicans excel at with 15 three-point makes per game (2nd in the NBA), could tip the scales more toward their favor.
Nonetheless, Wednesday presents a young New Orleans roster viewed in a position of depth another opportunity to look across the hall at a unit putting together championship-level basketball with an established hierarchy of superstars and role players in place allowing them to do so. Soon enough, Pelicans brass will be expecting the group they’ve assembled to present a similar product for years to come.
Let’s geaux, Pels!
Where To Watch/Listen
What: New Orleans Pelicans (6-11) vs Los Angeles Lakers (15-2)
Where: Smoothie King Center
When: Wednesday, November 27, 2019 8:30 PM CDT.