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Pelicans hope Zion Williamson’s return sparks upset victory over league-leading Lakers

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Will NAW get another start in place of the injured Lonzo Ball?

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

The New Orleans Pelicans (4-6), losers of four straight, are going to have a tough time getting off the schneid on Friday night because standing between them and a victory will be the best team in basketball.

Despite the shortest of offseasons, the Los Angeles Lakers (10-3) haven’t skipped a beat since winning the 2020 NBA championship. They own the best record in the league, having won eight of their last nine games, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis driving around on cruise control.

The stat lines of both All-NBA studs are down, but they’re more than happy to share responsibility in hopes of reaching the next postseason fresher. Davis and James are playing less than 32 minutes a game — averages noticeably below their usual norm — thanks to being on a deeper team than the previous edition.

The offseason additions of Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, Wesley Matthews and Marc Gasol have blended in seamlessly. In particular, Schroder has more than adequately filled the third scorer role in L.A., and Harrell is providing far more point production per minute than Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee combined last year.

These Lakers are a monster and it’s obvious that they’re the team to beat in the league. The Pelicans are going to have their hands full against an improved version of a squad they failed to beat once in four tries last season, but they may be inspired a little after receiving some good news yesterday.

Zion Williamson is all systems go again after his one-game absence due to an inconclusive Covid-19 test. According to Pelicans PR:

Zion Williamson was moved off the injury report Thursday and cleared for all team activities, which makes him available for the Friday nationally-televised game in Staples Center.

As for New Orleans usual starting backcourt, the injury report has not changed. Lonzo Ball (bilateral knee tendinopathy) remains out and Eric Bledsoe (right eye irritation) is questionable.

Will Nickeil Alexander-Walker draw the start in place of Zo? Let’s hope it’s not a difficult question for Stan Van Gundy to answer.

Josh Hart’s attributes feel better suited off the bench and Sindarius Thornwell did little in his minutes against the Clippers. And no one will soon forget the second-year guard’s explosive performance two nights ago.

Adding another floor spacer and aggressive scoring threat in NAW alongside Ingram and Zion sounds like a good plan. While the typical starting lineup has a +8.5 net rating, their 54.4 eFG% screams average.

Good performances on both sides of the ball are necessary against the best teams. New Orleans can probably ill-afford another 15-point frame against a LeBron-AD-led team like the one witnessed in the second quarter a few nights ago against the Clippers.

Let’s see Alexander-Walker surpass 30 minutes again. Even if the Pelicans wind up losing their fifth straight, prioritizing key development in mediocre-bound seasons is never the wrong answer.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (4-6) at Los Angeles Lakers (10-3)

When: January 15, 9:00 p.m. Central

Where to watch: FSNO, ESPN

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.