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Matchup against Lakers can be considered must-win for Pelicans

Beating L.A. would greatly enhance New Orleans’ odds of finding the postseason

New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s few bigger must-watch regular season matchups for most fan bases than when the Los Angeles Lakers come to town. Expect nothing different in the New Orleans region tonight, especially with so much at stake.

It’s a given that the Smoothie King Center will rudely welcome the Forum blue and gold uniforms a little after 7:00 p.m. local time. What should also be understood is the massive importance of game number 69 for the Pelicans.

The Pelicans and Lakers have identical 33-35 records. They’re neck and neck in a tight race — along with another half dozen teams — to get into the postseason. Only three games separate the fifth-seeded Warriors from the 12th-seeded Jazz.

With the Lakers possessing a 2-1 series lead on the season, it’s imperative for the Pelicans to not only win and not drop down any further in the Western Conference but also put themselves in great position to own the tiebreaker between the two teams.

If the Pelicans can tie the regular season series at 2-2 with the Lakers, conference won-lost percentage would dictate which of these teams sits higher in the standings. The Pelicans are currently 22-18 against Western Conference competition; the Lakers, 19-22.

With only 14 games remaining in the regular season, it’s easy to see how meaningful a victory would be for the Pelicans.

Each team’s best player, LeBron James and Zion Williamson, are out. There’s a real chance that neither appears in another regular season game in 2022-23. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis is listed as probable with a right foot stress injury, and Brandon Ingram, questionable with a right ankle sprain.

With so much riding on the line and watching BI move well over the weekend during pregame workouts, my belief is that Davis and Ingram will both be available for tonight’s matchup.

Much has been said and written about the Lakers steady rise in the standings since an awful start out of the gates, but did you know that little separation exists between the two teams over the last 15 games?

Team W/L record Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating AST% TOV% REB% TS%
Pelicans 7-8 112.9 (19th) 114.2 (15th) -1.2 (21st) 62.1% (6th) 13.8% (17th) 49.7% (18th) 58.4% (16th)
Lakers 8-7 112.5 (21st) 111.0 (6th) +1.5 (12th) 61.2% (9th) 14.2% (20th) 51.4% (11th) 57.7% (20th)

Of course, New Orleans’ home and Los Angeles’ away splits should weight more heavily considering this matchup is taking place in Louisiana.

Team W/L record Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating AST% TOV% REB% TS%
Pelicans Home 5-3 117.1 (14th) 111.9 (13th) +5.1 (12th) 65.3% (4th) 14.6% (22nd) 51.7% (11th) 59.9% (14th)
Lakers Away 3-3 111.6 (20th) 114.0 (10th) -2.4 (17th) 58.0% (20th) 14.2% (18th) 52.0% (6th) 56.3% (22nd)

The Pelicans should be considered the favorites, right? Perhaps, but it feels like most stats should be taken with a grain of salt. Both teams are well aware of what a victory would mean in the grand scheme of things, so the outcome should boil down to unmeasurables like focus and heart.

Thank goodness this game will be played in New Orleans — please be sure to bring your loud voice to what should be a playoff-like atmosphere inside the Smoothie King Center!

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (33-35) vs Los Angeles Lakers (33-35)

When: March 14, 7:00 p.m. CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

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.