Has a LeBron James-led team that’s aiming to make the playoffs ever looked more hopeless out on a basketball court?
“I don’t have an answer for tonight,” LeBron said in postgame. “If we’re talking about the future, that’s for us all to figure out. You don’t know what can happen in the next few weeks, but tonight from the six-minute point in the second quarter through the third, no answers. That team has been playing well. They went into Phoenix, beat them, and obviously beat the doors off us today. Mostly in that third quarter, I don’t have too many answers.”
Honestly, this was as laughable of a performance as you’ll see from an NBA team. The lack of resistance defensively, the sloppy play ... the Lakers had 16 turnovers at halftime. Russell Westbrook didn’t register his first assist until after accumulating seven miscues. A wild pass by DeAndre Jordan that sailed way out of bounds encapsulates the theme perfectly.
No matter how humorous the play was at times though, we’re not here to talk about the Lakers and their misery. So let’s put an end to that discussion on this note: the Pelicans have moved back into the 10th seed in the Western Conference and trail the Lakers by a mere 2.5 games for ninth.
As mentioned, New Orleans wasn’t at their best. They made 16 of 25 free throw attempts. They had five turnovers through the first 8:30 of the first quarter and 15 for the game. However, their effort was consistent and deserves to be lauded.
For instance, after CJ McCollum missed two wide open 3s on the same possession in the first half, he ran back on transition defense and intercepted a long Laker pass for a steal. Herb Jones then finished things off with a driving layup.
Naji Marshall came up with a block of LeBron James after getting beat off the dribble. Jose Alvarado was diving headfirst after loose balls with the game in hand. And then there were all those steals.
The Pelicans had seven thefts in the first quarter and finished the game with 16. Every starter recorded at least two thefts. In all, nine players registered at least one.
“Just a credit to our guys once again buying into the game plan, having game plan discipline, knowing that this team is a team that wants to attack you by getting into the paint,” Green said. “We just wanted to have active hands, be aggressive in our pick and roll coverages and just try to cause as many deflections as possible and the guys went out tonight and executed wire to wire.”
Another thing that stood out, the new rotations have looked really good through two games. Players appear to be settling well into their roles because everyone that’s stepped onto the floor is contributing.
Jaxson Hayes, who finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, was flying around the paint on both ends. It not only led to easy buckets but a higher dose of rebounds.
Willie Green talked in pregame about Hayes being a larger factor on the glass at the 4-spot. Grabbing a healthy amount of boards is something that’s eluded Hayes often, but that may be indeed changing for the better.
While Brandon Ingram (19 points) and CJ McCollum (22 points) didn’t have huge scoring nights, they each tallied eight assists. One can’t ask for more than that from the team’s two best playmakers.
Herb Jones pestered the LeBron and the Lakers throughout, posting a line of 11 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Jonas Valanciunas took advantage of his size against some small lineups — watching LeBron and Carmelo Anthony try to slow him down in the paint proved a fruitless endeavor quickly — to finish with a very efficient 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Off the bench, Devonte’ Graham double digit scoring streak as a reserve continued as he scored 12 points, which included a couple of 3-pointers. Since the move out of the starting lineup, Graham has made 37.5% of his 3-ball attempts.
The combo guard deserves a lot of credit, but hats off to the New Orleans head coach for going the extra mile in helping his player make the adjustment.
Devonte Graham said post game coach Green reached out, came over to his house to talk about DG's role -- Graham said whatever helps the team win, he's with it, that CJ, BI, Jonas and Jaxson on the floor has been causing a lot problems for ppl & I get to come in & be a scorer #wbd— Erin Summers (@ErinESummers) February 28, 2022
Tony Snell was excellent again, posting a line of nine points, six rebounds and three triples in 22 minutes. He has been absolutely solid in all five appearances for New Orleans and I believe we should anticipate he’ll continue to be a sneaky good replacement.
Marshall (five points, six rebounds) and Jose Alvarado (four points, four assists) rounded out the nine-man rotation.
Up next, the Pelicans fly home to enjoy Mardi Gras. They’ll welcome the Sacramento Kings this Wednesday, looking to post their third straight victory out of the All-Star break.