The Pelicans hung tough on Tuesday night but ultimately the Lakers proved to be in a higher class, especially the one and only King. New Orleans lost by a final score of 118-109 in Los Angeles behind a new season-high of 40 points from LeBron James, and one never sensed that the Pelicans had a solid chance to walk away with the potential victory.
Credit the Lakers’ defensive game plan because it disrupted New Orleans’ attack all too often and in turn created a number of easy scoring opportunities on the other end. Los Angeles did a great job of running the Pelicans off the three-point line and into the waiting the hands of one of their bigs at the rim. When New Orleans tried to facilitate something else, they turned the ball over too much.
One didn’t need to look any further than how the Lakers blanketed JJ Redick. They made sure he didn’t get any looks at the basket, doubling him around screens when necessary. In 20 minutes of action, JJ registered zero (!!!) shot attempts. That set a new woeful record. Redick’s previous low for field goal attempts in a game when playing 20+ minutes was two.
For the game, New Orleans shot 27 threes to the Lakers’ 44. While the Pelicans got to the free throw line at a decent clip (30 attempts), their numerous forced misses inside the paint and 20 turnovers really handicapped the offense. If an opponent focuses on taking away a facet of the game, you’ve got to make them pay elsewhere. For the most part the Pelicans failed to do that consistently well and Los Angeles turned 10 steals and 12 blocks into an ungodly amount of fastbreak points, 36 in all.
The energy was fine for New Orleans, as evidenced by 29 fastbreak points of their own, but the Lakers really got into the bodies of the Pelicans defensively, destroying that beautiful ball and player movement we’ve become accustomed to seeing on a nightly basis. Oh, there were a number of nice dimes dropped, but it was usually derived from just a pass or two, and there were few instances of good offensive flow outside of a stretch in the first half.
This isn’t to say the game wasn’t fully entertaining — there were a lot of runs made by both teams, but several times in this contest it felt as if the Lakers were going to blow the doors wide open. In particular, a 17-4 start to the game and then an 11-0 run by the Lakers right out of halftime felt nearly insurmountable, but New Orleans battled back each time to briefly take the lead. However, when Los Angeles needed something good to happen, James was there to provide the necessary lift.
In that aforementioned 11-0 run, LeBron accounted for all the scoring, including three 3-pointers, but his best work came from the post area, almost always in single coverage against Jrue Holiday. The coaching staff refused to send Holiday help and James consistently made them pay for that decision. Although he created seven turnovers, LeBron finished with an MVP-line of 40 points, eight rebounds, six assists, five threes and a block. One can criticize this decision, but New Orleans failing to execute well on both ends eventually led to the most damage in my opinion.
Brandon Ingram was New Orleans’ biggest force offensively, accounting for 34 points on 20 shots, but poor decision-making and loose handles (seven turnovers) took away some of that shine. Still, it was nice to see him look like a walking bucket again when he put himself in solid position to score.
Zion Williamson finished with 29 points — hey, another 20-point game for the rookie, but nearly half of that damage came from the free throw line where he sank 13 of 19 attempts. He was clearly frustrated by the length of Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard at certain points, reminding us some of the matchup against the Bucks earlier this month. But remember, it’s a process. He’ll learn how to overcome length and the better 5-man swarming defensive units in time.
While combining for 63 points leaps off the box score, it must also be mentioned that BI and Zion still have a long way to go defensively. Seemingly when Derrick Favors wasn’t in the game, New Orleans suffered from too many breakdowns and it’s on the team’s starting forwards to provide a lot more resistance.
As for the rest of the game, Nicolo Melli started out hot and finished with 11 points and six rebounds, Lonzo Ball had a line of 10/8/8 but didn’t have his typical impact, and Jrue Holiday hustled, made some good plays but wound up posting a mere 11 points on 19 shots. Josh Hart was unusually quiet, making just one of his field goal attempts, and when Jahlil Okafor was forced into the game upon Favors’ foul trouble, the Lakers went on a big run.
That’s what makes this game interesting in hindsight. There were a lot of things the Pelicans didn’t do well and individuals who struggled on either end of the floor, but they remained in a tight battle until the final minute or so. Let’s hope they can figure out some things soon because they’re facing this same Lakers squad again on Sunday, this time in New Orleans though.
With the loss, the Pelicans lose half a game in the standings, but remain 3.5 in back of the reeling Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th seed in the Western Conference.
Up next, the Pelicans will come home and enjoy a couple of days off before facing the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.