Showtime: 7:30pm PT
Plot: Even in a season without expectations, the Lakers can't escape the usual drama that follows their every move.
The rechristened New Orleans Pelicans make their first trip of the year to Los Angeles just days after 96-85 win that was far closer than it would appear. With the score 76-74 at 6:28 in the fourth quarter after a Steve Blake three pointer, New Orleans closed with a 20-11 flurry that put away the game for good. 2012 first overall pick Anthony Davis was responsible for 11 of those buckets, destroying a collapsing Lakers interior defense with hooks and jumpers all over the paint. "The Brow" hit a career high in points with 32 to go along with 12 rebounds, 3 assists and 6 blocked shots. However, his stat line only tells half the story. Davis harassed Lakers guards all night with his spindly arms in the paint and absolutely took it to Pau Gasol. The Spaniard went just 3 for 12 on the night, including numerous shots swatted away by Davis in the post. Though he's looked fantastic this young season thus far, Friday exemplified the heights to which this future star could rise. He was parts Tim Duncan, Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge in one, hideous looking package. He's that good.
However, Davis going off was as expected as the rest of the team's performance was unexpected. The finest basketball export from Colorado State University, Jason Smith, torched the Lakers with 14 points and 5 boards, while the much ballyhooed back court didn't play up to expectations. Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon went 13 for 38 from the field, nearly shooting the Pels out of the game. It wasn't as if the Lakers' defense was great last Friday--because when is it ever?--but rather New Orleans just kept missing solid looks. Going into tonight, the Lakers shouldn't expect the same performances from any of those players.
Meanwhile, the Lakers have seen back court drama of their own. LA will be going without Steve Nash for the next two weeks, as the former two-time MVP sits out with what's been diagnosed as "nerve root irritation". According to Nash, it's been an injury that's gotten "worse and worse" as the season has worn on, and very well could end up jeopardizing his Hall of Fame-worthy career.
Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks will be the starting guards and with the extra time (and shots) available to them are coming off possibly their best stretches as Lakers. The pair's impossibly hot three-point shooting (at .488 3P% and .459 3P% respectively) has kept wins within the realm of possibility this season and will have to continue tonight if the Lakers have any chance. Gasol, for the most part, has been disappointing as the team's first option thus far (shooting just .360%), but has also been constantly doubled in the post and hounded by defensive stalwarts such as Davis, Andrew Bogut, Al Horford and Dwight Howard. More of the same should be expected tonight, which really puts the onus on the Lakers shooting the lights out from distance in order to prevail.
As I've harped on for the past eight contests, if Los Angeles has any chance of being successful this season, they must collect victories in all potentially winnable games. With the game at STAPLES Center against a Pelicans team that looks like it will be on the fringes of the playoff picture, the Lakers have to pick up the W. They played competitive basketball with their opponents until the end last Friday on the road: can the Show do it again?
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino