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Pelicans have opportunity to deliver painful blow to Laker postseason hopes

A victory would give New Orleans a commanding lead over LeBron’s squad in the standings

Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The Pelicans have another opportunity to add to the Lakers misery’.

The two teams will meet in Los Angeles tonight to close out a season series in which the Pels lead 2-0. New Orleans blew out the Lakers by a final score of 123-95 soon out of the All-Star break and the negativity went beyond the hardwood in L.A.

LeBron James and several of his teammates exchanged some harsh words with their own home town fans during the contest.

Then this past Saturday, the Pelicans enjoyed a huge come-from-behind victory, overcoming a 23-point deficit to beat the Lakers 116-108. To top it off for L.A. faithful, LeBron twisted an ankle.

After missing the last two Laker games — both losses, James is expected to return to action against the Pelicans. The same can be said about Anthony Davis, who has not faced New Orleans yet this season. The Pelicans are going to get the Lakers’ best shot, which honestly might not be saying all that much.

Sitting 11th in the Western Conference standings, Los Angeles’ backs are up against the wall. When right, James and Davis are top 10 players in the league, but it’s important to note the duo has propelled the Lakers to only an 11-10 record (and a very mediocre -2.6 net rating) in contests they’ve appeared together.

It’s also pertinent to mention that since Jan 7. only the Rockets and Thunder have won fewer games. A 10-26 record to show for nearly the last three months sits on the opposite spectrum of “championship caliber.”

While New Orleans should expect a spirited effort by L.A., the Pelicans have been rolling when all the key players are healthy, with Willie Green’s five at tip-off particularly dominant.

Starting lineups of CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes and Jonas Valanciunas has produced a 6-2 record. This group has been lights out offensively (124.0 offensive rating) and noticeably more effective than their opponents (+11.6 net rating).

For an interesting comparison, Phoenix’s preferred five of Paul-Booker-Bridges-Crowder-Ayton has compiled a +7.0 net rating to date.

To be fair, New Orleans is as deep as they’ve been in years, with Willie Green having his choice of weapons to select from on the bench. Jose Alvarado (8.7 points, 4.1 assists, 2.0 steals), Naji Marshall (9.3 points, 3.7 rebounds), Trey Murphy (8.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.8 threes) and Larry Nance Jr. (7.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.7 blocks) were net positives for the month of March.

In their last matchup, Green relied on big perimeter players to victory, with Alvarado and Devonte’ Graham seeing little second half action. That may prove true again, but I’m going to be focused on a player who didn’t appear in that game.

With Sunday’s game falling on the second night of a back-to-back, Nance was unavailable. He is expected to play tonight and he could be the key in slowing Anthony Davis down if the need arises.

While Hayes has all the athletic ability in the world, he hasn’t ingrained all the ins and outs of defending elite talent. Nance, on the other hand, is brimming with experience, so if Jaxson gets into foul or is simply ineffective, expect for Green to turn to Larry often.

Another big game is on tap for the Pelicans. If they can get past the Lakers Friday night, they’ll enjoy a three-game lead in the standings over LeBron’s group — though it’ll function as four with New Orleans having already wrapped up the tiebreaker.

Who else is salivating at the thought of that?!

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (33-43) at Los Angeles Lakers (31-45)

When: April 1, 2022, 9:30 p.m.

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA TV, League Pass

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.