The New Orleans Pelicans have a golden opportunity Tuesday night to post a win over one of the most storied franchises in the league that’s had their number the last few years.
For those unfamiliar, the Pelicans have had little success against the Lakers since LeBron James took his talents to California. In fact, New Orleans has managed just a lone win in their last eight matchups versus the infinitely more famous Los Angeles team the past two and half seasons.
One has to go back to February 23, 2019, to find evidence of success. On that day, Jrue Holiday and Julius Randle bested Brandon Ingram and James as the Pelicans won 128-115. Admittedly though, that Laker team wasn’t very good, finishing the 2018-19 season with a 37-45 record and missing the playoffs by a full 11 games.
Of course, the city of New Orleans knows the story all too well from that point in time. Anthony Davis joined forces with LeBron the following summer and the duo went on to win the 2020 NBA championship in their first year together. More important to this article though, the Pelicans were swept 4-0 by the Lakers last season.
Add a 112-95 loss this past January, the Pelicans are 0-5 against the most feared combo in the game today when at least one of L.A.’s superstars has suited up and there’s no chance that trend changes tonight.
Due to injury misfortunes, LeBron (right high-ankle sprain) and AD (right calf strain) will not be in action later today inside the Smoothie King Center.
There is a possibility that Marc Gasol makes an appearance, but according to Frank Vogel a few days ago, the starting center’s conditioning isn’t up to par yet after clearing NBA health and safety protocols last Saturday.
The Pelicans, who may be without Lonzo Ball again (questionable with a right hip flexor strain), are likely to face a starting lineup of Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Kuzma and Markieff Morris. That level of competition feels very beatable, but there’s no such thing as a shoe-in victory for these Pelicans.
New Orleans is currently 9-14 against the top 16 teams in the league and a disappointing 9-10 against the bottom 14. Their seven victories since the only four-game win streak of the season tells the story: Nuggets, Clippers, Cavaliers, Jazz, Pistons, Celtics and Grizzlies. Knocking off mediocre teams has been an issue all season.
As for what to expect from a Lakers team missing their two leaders is anyone’s guess.
“It’s going to take a little time as we adjust, figure out where the shots are coming from and what our new identity is going to look like, “Frank Vogel said after Sunday’s loss in Phoenix.
The Lakers have dropped two straight games and putting points on the board has been a problem. They scored 94 points in both losses to the Suns and Hawks, shooting 41.2% and 42.0% from the field, respectively, with the three-ball also not going down (20.0 3PT% & 30.8 3PT%).
“Well, we have actions that we run for each guy,” Vogel said in response to how the Lakers plan to proceed. “They know how to attack and read the defensive situations they’re going to encounter. We want guys staying ultra aggressive in the catch-and-shoot game at the three-point line and we’ve got to punish over help.”
The Pelicans are averaging 114.7 points here in the month of March. With the Lakers coming in wounded, New Orleans should strive for a point total higher than that. Step on the throat of a weaker opponent and not allow for confidence to grow that could result in another disappointing defeat.
The dream of at least reaching the Play-In Tournament remains alive, but Zion Williamson and the rest of the Pelicans must start taking advantage of most of the remaining gifts on the schedule. Tonight’s contest against the Lakers is one of them.
Who: New Orleans Pelicans (18-24) vs Los Angeles Lakers (28-15)
When: March 23, 6:30 p.m. Central
Where to watch: TNT
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.