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New Orleans Pelicans fall flat in second half shellacking at hands of Los Angeles Lakers, lose 130-102

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A close game went sour quick once the third quarter began.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Wood did a good thing!

As it has for much of March, Wood’s penchant for setting career-highs and achieving career-firsts was one of very few bright spots in the New Orleans Pelicans (32-46) 130-102 loss to the visiting Lakers of Los Angeles (35-42).

From the opening tip, the Pels were playing with fire. They actually led by one after the first half despite coughing the ball up 12 times, a number they would duplicate in the second half and one that the Lakers would not reach even after the full 48 minutes (they finished with 10.) If there is a silver lining to this, it is that the team was clearly making an effort to move the ball as much as possible, which is generally a good thing to do. But movement for movement’s sake can be dangerous, and the scoreboard at night’s end captured the potential consequences as clearly as possible.

Shots were falling in the early going though, which kept the game within arm’s reach. Ian Clark scored nine in the first quarter alone and Julius Randle needed just four shots to score his first 12 points of the contest. Jahlil Okafor made his first four shots and finished 7-8 from the field with 15 points.

The Pels’ second quarter point total of 36 was their highest of the game, but the Lakers surpassed it with ease in a shockingly dominant third quarter, in which Alex Caruso, who is currently on a two-way contract, weaved his way into passing lanes and turned what seemed like every New Orleans mistake into a Los Angeles basket. He scored 12 in the quarter and finished with 23 on just 11 shots. The narrative of an opposing bench player catching fire is one that has cropped up more times than anybody would like this season (hi Jake Layman!), but the lackadaisical play on both ends of the floor could hardly yield any other result.

JaVale McGee scored 23 points and collected 16 rebounds. JaVale McGee is a fine player, but he should not be scoring 23 points and collecting 16 rebounds. It may be true that no player that hit the court for the Pelicans today can match him physically, but time and time again he found painted areas so deserted he may have thought he was in Phoenix, which led to dunk after dunk after dunk. The Lakers, like the Pelicans, have been among the league leaders in points in the paint for most of the season, but without LeBron James on the floor, they should not be sniffing the 48 that they managed tonight.

Julius Randle has, in many of the Pelicans games since the trade deadline, attempted to shoulder most of if not the entire offensive load himself, with mixed results. Tonight was a different story though despite scoring a team-high 17 points, since that work was done on just eight shots. Two teammates, Okafor and Stanley Johnson, took the same amount, which was the fourth-highest number of attempts on the team (Ian Clark led the way with 15, which is genuinely horrifying). Besides Kenrich Williams, who missed all three of his shots in the game, no other Pelican finished with less than six attempts. That can largely be attributed to the even minutes distribution by Alvin Gentry, who got all 10 active players at least 20 minutes of game time. In a win that kind of balance would be encouraging. In a blowout loss though, it is just plain ugly.

Rajon Rondo had himself a night as well, scoring a team- and game-high 24 points anchored by 4-7 shooting from three-point range. His 12 assists may be even more of an indicator of just how good he is at taking advantage of unprepared competition. Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman told a story on tonight’s broadcast about how she had recently been up at 4:00am looking for someone to talk to about game tape, and she rightly assumed that Rondo would be willing to do just that. The Lakers season is over, but the former Pelican continues to prove that his grind for the game never stops, for better or for worse.

Rondo was not the only Laker who was effective from deep. As a team, they blew the Pelicans out of the water from long range, connecting on 15 of 38 shots (39.5%) to the Pelicans 8 of 31 (25.8%). The players that took the most for Los Angeles (Rondo, Caruso and Mike Muscala) finished 10-17. Meanwhile, Clark and Dairis Bertans finished 3-15. Even if that duo had made all of their attempts they wouldn’t have managed to close the entire deficit, but it certainly would have helped.

The Pelicans now get a chance to unwind, rewind or whatever it is that they would like to do over the next three days before their contest against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night. Charlotte had ripped off an impressive four-game stretch in which they took down Minnesota, Boston, San Antonio and Toronto before, as the basketball gods would have it, they lost to the Lakers this past Tuesday. At the time of this writing, they are locked in a battle against the Golden State Warriors and are scheduled to take on the Utah Jazz on Monday before heading to New Orleans. They are desperately attempting to keep their playoff hopes alive so expect nothing less than an all-out effort from Kemba Walker and company.

Tonight was a tough one to watch, but take solace in this, Pelicans fans: the Lakers wanted to lose this game. And Ian Clark wasn’t going to let them take these lottery balls if it was the last thing he did. For that, he deserves our respect.