New Orleans held a one-point lead with less than two minutes remaining before falling 114-110 in what would turn out to be the third consecutive loss in the Pelicans’ 13-game losing streak.
Now the Pelicans prepare to face the Lakers in Los Angeles as winners of four in a row and five of their last six. In fact, New Orleans is tied with five other teams for the best record in the NBA in that stretch (Boston, Miami, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, and Utah).
Meanwhile, the Lakers are 3-3 over their last six, though they have won three in a row after suffering through a four-game losing streak of their own.
While Anthony Davis’ homecoming drove the plot of the first matchup, this time it will be the Pels’ trio of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart, who will be returning to their old stamping grounds at the Staples Center.
Last season the trio combined for 36.0 points, 14.1 rebounds, 9.8 assists, and 3.0 steals per game as the Lakers circus and injuries to all three limited their minutes and, in some ways, their development.
Given more freedom to operate this season, they provide the Pelicans with 47.0 points, 18.0 rebounds, 10.7 assists, and 3.2 steals each night out.
Ingram has developed into one of the top wing scorers in the NBA in just 30 games. After struggling out of the gate, Ball seems to be finding his legs, and his complete floor game. Hart has proven to be a tough defender and rebounder who is also capable of taking and making big shots.
Over the Pelicans’ past six games, they’ve been major catalysts on both ends of the floor and have boosted their production even higher.
Since Dec. 18, they’ve averaged a combined 48.5 points, 18.3 rebounds, 11.2 assists, and 4.2 steals.
If the Pelicans have a chance of extending their winning streak to five, Ingram, Ball, and Hart will be deciding factors. Fortunately, each player has the type of disposition that doesn’t tend to lend itself to getting caught up in the moment. They’ve done LA, and now that’s in the past.
I wouldn’t expect a big letdown from this group in their first homecoming game.
As for the Lakers, they seem to be playing basketball exactly the way the Pelicans would like as of late. Even during their three wins, Los Angeles has had problems dealing with the likes of Portland and Phoenix.
Three-point shooting has been a big problem for LA, as they’ve made less than 32 percent of their attempts as of late, 24th-best in the NBA.
The Lakers are also suddenly struggling on the glass, ranking 26th in the league even with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee, and Kyle Kuzma.
With a healthy Derrick Favors in the lineup, and the ever active Jaxson Hayes, suddenly the nearly 34 feet of Los Angeles front court defenders doesn’t seem as intimidating as it might have a couple of weeks ago.
After their incredible start to the season, the Lakers are now the team dealing with questions. Trade rumors have already begun, and seemingly every veteran role player in the NBA is being mentioned as a potential trade target.
Having four days of rest before starting a back to back that ends Saturday night in Sacramento is another advantage for New Orleans.
Los Angeles is already looking at options to begin managing LeBron’s minutes, which is so hard for a Lakers team that is completely different with him off of the floor.
James is dealing with an injured groin, Davis is battling a sore shoulder, and reserve guard Alex Caruso is a game-time decision with a calf injury.
Across the bench, the Pelicans are as healthy as they’ve been all season, and things are looking better with what seems to be the imminent return of Zion Williamson.
This is a game the Pelicans could and maybe should win.
Where To Watch/Listen
What: New Orleans Pelicans (11-23) at Los Angeles Lakers (27-7)
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
When: Friday, January 3, 2019 9:30 PM CST