After reshaping their roster, working their way through impactful injuries and managing to give themselves a chance at a playoff berth with a month remaining in the regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers have no intention of slowing down now.
A matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday will start a quick two-game road trip, with the Lakers acting like the playoffs already have started. A 112-108 home loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday has only heightened their sense of urgency.
The Lakers entered Sunday’s game as winners in seven of their previous nine games, fashioning a remarkable run without star LeBron James, who missed six of those nine games with a tendon injury in his right foot. James’ return isn’t likely for at least another two weeks.
Fellow star Anthony Davis has been leading the Lakers’ charge, but his recent scoring burst has slowed a bit. The forward has averaged just 12.5 points over the past two games after he averaged 33.0 points over his previous five contests.
Davis did have 16 rebounds Sunday, and D’Angelo Russell had 33 points to continue his own recent scoring uptick, but the Lakers were unable to reach the .500 mark for the first time this season. Los Angeles opened the 2022-23 schedule with five consecutive defeats.
“If we’re saying we’re a playoff team, which wholeheartedly we all believe we are, everyone in the organization, from top to bottom, believes this newly assembled group can do big things in the postseason,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said, according to the Orange County Register. “But we gotta get there. We gotta do our work.”
Now Davis goes up against his former team in a matchup further heightened by the fact that both the Lakers and Pelicans each have a 33-35 record. In fact, four Western Conference teams have the same mark amid a cluster of clubs trying to get their heads above the playoff line.
Once among the top teams in the West, the Pelicans are in scramble mode now after losing seven of their last 10. But they have been better of late, winning two of their last three, including a 127-110 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.
The Pelicans’ Trey Murphy III scored a career-high 41 points in Sunday’s victory, making a career-best nine 3-pointers. CJ McCollum scored 22 points and had 11 assists as New Orleans rebounded after a 110-96 home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.
“It just showed what Pelicans basketball is,” said Murphy, who is scoring 13.3 points per game but has averaged 20.8 over his past five contests. “What we showed that night against OKC wasn’t our level of (play), especially at this time of the year. I definitely felt like we responded well.”
The Lakers will try to win the season series against the Pelicans after a 120-117 victory in overtime Nov. 2 and a 120-102 victory Feb. 15, with both games at home. The Pelicans won the first meeting at New Orleans, 131-126 on Feb. 4, when former Laker Brandon Ingram scored 35 points.
Ingram, who is scoring 22.9 points per game, has missed the past two contests for New Orleans with a sprained right ankle.
–Field Level Media