March 22, 2018, 4:48 am
The Lakers (31-39) head to New Orleans on Thursday to take on the Pelicans (42-30).
The Pelicans are trying to accomplish the remarkable feat of sweeping a stretch of three games in three nights. They earned the second win Wednesday in a tightly contested (96-92) game against the Pacers, a game that was rescheduled earlier in the season due to wet floors. Thursday’s contest will also mark five games in six nights for New Orleans — they have good cause to be fatigued.
Unfortunately, they don’t have the luxury of resting their players as they are also in the midst of a tight playoff race. The Pelicans currently sit in fifth place in the Western Conference, but are only three games ahead of ninth-seeded Denver.
The Lakers have been afforded two nights to recoup some of their energy, practice and prepare for this game — an opportunity to snap a three-game losing streak. However, Los Angeles will still be without leading scorer Brandon Ingram, who is recovering from a hip/groin injury suffered against Miami March 1. The Lakers won four of the first six games without Ingram, but have lost the last three games. Although he was able to participate in increased activity on Tuesday, Ingram was unable to practice with the team on Wednesday and has officially been ruled out of Thursday’s contest.
If the Lakers are to bounce-back, they will need more production from their two point guards, who have struggled of late. Lonzo Ball has only made 12-of-52 shots (23.1 percent) over his last five games. Although he does continue to influence the game in many facets (2.2 steals, 8.4 assists), his inability to knock down his outside shots or play aggressively in the halfcourt offense is hurting the Lakers — he appears to miss Ingram more than anyone.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Lakers’ frontcourt has been playing tremendous basketball. Brook Lopez has enjoyed his best stretch as a Laker over the last seven games with averages of 22.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 2.3 3-pointers per game while shooting 58.9 percent from the field.
Kyle Kuzma is coming off a 27-point, eight-rebound performance and Julius Randle has continuously dominated the league, averaging 21.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists over the last month.
Los Angeles will need to fire on all cylinders to take this game from a tired, but motivated Pelican squad.
-Expect a fast-paced, high-scoring game as the Lakers are first in the league in pace (103.05) and the Pelicans are close behind in third place (102.40). Los Angeles scores 108.3 points per game (ninth) while New Orleans is one of the best offensive teams in the league, averaging 111.7 points per game (4th).
-The Pelicans are a much more efficient offensively with a true shooting percentage of 57.3 percent (fifth) vs. the Lakers who own a 54.6 percent true shooting percentage (22nd).
-There should be a lot of points scored in the key on Thursday as the Lakers lead the league with 52.6 points in the paint per game and the Pelicans are a close second with 51.6 points per game. To compound the issue, neither team excels at defending down low, with the Lakers allowing 48.6 points in the paint per game (29th) and the Pelicans also struggling in that regard conceding 47.6 points (27th).
-One of the keys to New Orleans’ recent success has been their improved defense as their defensive rating has spiked to 97.1 (fifth) during their three-game win-streak. In contrast, the Lakers have faltered defensively, earning a 107.8 rating (14th) during their own three-game losing streak. For the season, the two teams have almost identical defensive ratings with Los Angeles holding a slight edge of 105.6 (13th) vs. 106.2 (15th) for New Orleans.
-The Lakers hold a significant edge in rebounding on the season, averaging 46.3 rebounds per game (second) while earning a 50.8 percent rebounding rate (ninth). In contrast, the Pelicans average 44.0 rebounds per game (14th) while only collecting a 49.2 percent rebounding rate (21st).
-The major discrepancy between the two teams is shooting: The Lakers convert 34.5 percent of their shots from 3-point range (29th) and 70.7 percent of their free throws (30th) while New Orleans knock down 36.4 percent of their 3-point shots (15th) and 76.9 percent of their freebies (17th).
Projected Starting Lineups
Lonzo Ball (PG)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG)
Kyle Kuzma (SF)
Julius Randle (PF)
Brook Lopez (C)
Rajon Rondo (PG)
Jrue Holiday (SG)
E’Twaun Moore (SF)
Anthony Davis (PF)
Emeka Okafor (C)
Brandon Ingram (groin) – OUT
Josh Hart (finger) – OUT
Channing Frye (appendectomy) – OUT
Brook Lopez (back) – PROBABLE
DeMarcus Cousins (Achilles) – OUT
Solomon Hill (hamstring) – OUT
Frank Jackson (foot) – OUT
Time: 5:00 PM PST, 8:00 PM EST
Television: FOX SPORTS NEW ORLEANS, SPECSN/SPECD
Radio: WRNO 99.5FM, 710 AM ESPN, 1330 AM ESPN DEPORTES