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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans hosting much-anticipated matchup with Los Angeles Lakers on heels of Anthony Davis trade request

LeBron James comes to town desperate for wins in order to keep his playoff appearances streak intact.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In the record books, Saturday’s matchup between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Los Angeles Lakers will appear as one of 82 games played over the course of another season.

But it isn’t that. It is oh, so much more.

The Pelicans and the Lakers have been linked together for years, making for a contentious relationship between the two franchises. Highlights include the 2011 playoff series that LA won four games to two — the last playoff series of the Chris Paul era. Then, of course, we endured the failed trade that would have sent CP3 to the Lakers, which arguably set both franchises back.

And finally, the proverbial cherry on top, Anthony Davis’ trade demand that intended to force the Pelicans to send him to Hollywood, and the clear involvement of LeBron James through his and Davis’ agent Rich Paul.

This is drama. This is reality television played out live in front of what should be, at the very least, an engaged crowd at the Smoothie King Center.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

There will be numerous villains, James first and foremost among them. For once, the boos should equal if not surpass the cheers for The King. Rajon Rondo will also be met with mixed emotions in his first return to New Orleans since the leaving the Pelicans in a still disputed, but nonetheless surprising free agent defection.

But the star of our show is Anthony Davis, the hero turned heel. AD incurred no favor with Pelicans fans over the All-Star break, and his lackadaisacal approach to the game that preceded the hiatus seems to have carried over.

He looked disinterested once again, scoring a forgettable 15 points in 19 minutes in last night’s loss to the Indiana Pacers. In the third quarter, as the Pelicans’ lead was eroding, Davis was 2-for-5 from the floor and 3-for-6 at the free throw line.

His reception could be the chilliest of all. The fan base no longer knows what to make of Davis, considering his willingness to compromise this season, his contradictory and sometimes downright illogical public statements, and his stated desire to finish out the season actually playing games.

It’s one thing to leave, it’s completely another to go from savior to pariah. Anthony Davis seems well on his way to becoming the latter.

Since Davis’ desire to leave New Orleans was made public 10 days prior to the Feb. 7 trade deadline, the Lakers and Pelicans have each had their layers of disfunction laid bare.

The Lakers have had to deal with a locker room full of young players who believed they were going to be “Lakers for life” but were seemingly being cast aside by the player who told them that if they fell that their brother would be there to pick them up. It’s a fractured team that has disappointed for the most part this season.

Head coach Luke Walton has been on the hot seat from the outset, and both team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka have had their tactics and competency questioned.

We’re all up on the Pelicans’ carnage. Dell Demps was ousted after the Thursday night debacle on national television, and Danny Ferry stepped in as interim GM. Gayle Benson and Ferry have failed to find a resonable solution that would keep AD off the court. Alvin Gentry is justifiably angry and tired of dealing with questions regarding Davis.

Which brings us back to the basketball portion of our preview.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With 24 games remaining, the Lakers are 29-29 and on the outside looking in at the playoffs. They are coming off of a come from behind win over the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, giving them an extra day’s rest.

Against the Rockets they started Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, James, Reggie Bullock, and JaVale McGee, with Ingram, Kuzma, and James each logging more than 37 minutes.

Los Angeles is thin in the frontcourt. The reserve unit is led by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart, and Rondo. Former Hornets/Pelicans Lance Stephenson and Tyson Chandler also see time.

Offensively, the Lakers are in the middle of the pack, ranking 14th in points per game (112.2) and 21st in ORTG (107.8). Defensively, they’re about the same, allowing 113.3 points each night and ranking 11th in DRTG (108.9).

Los Angeles is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the NBA, making just over 30 percent from distance. They also commit nearly 16 turnovers per game.

A Pelicans team at full strength would be reasonable favorites over the visitors. However, with Davis and now Jrue Holiday on minutes restrictions, much of the burden falls to the less experienced players on the roster to make the road to the postseason even longer for the Lakers.

Julius Randle, Cheick Diallo, and Jahlil Okafor could cause problems on the interior for LA. Each has had his own moments of dominance as of late. If they’re on, the Lakers may not have a counter.

Kenrich Williams will have the opportunity to rack up some second chance points, which will hopefully get him back on track offensively. “Kenny Hustle” has only 17 points in his last three games after totalling 41 in the three before that.

Maybe the Pelicans win, maybe they don’t. Either way, we should all be entertained.

Starting lineups:

Pelicans: Payton - Jrue - Kenrich - Randle - Davis

Lakers: Ingram - Bullock - James - Kuzma - McGee

Where To Watch/Listen

What: Los Angeles Lakers (29-29) at New Orleans Pelicans (26-34)

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

When: Saturday, February 23, 2019. 6:00 PM CST

How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO