Showtime: 7:30 pm PT
Plot: Luckily for the Lakers, they may have just found their match. Unluckily for their Lakers, they seem to have found their stride just when it matters most for them to be losing games.
Los Angeles gears back up one night after a mysteriously fantastic win in Portland against the Trail Blazers for a bout with the reeling New Orleans Pelicans. The former Hornets are on an eight game losing streak, including a home loss to the lowly New York Knicks and on the road Monday versus the Sacramento Kings. The main culprit seems to be injuries, which have shattered a seemingly promising squad. Two of their best three players have been sidelined for parts of the year, including All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday and sharp shooting big man Ryan Anderson, as well as key role player Jason Smith. Compounding that is the disappointing play of high priced free agent Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon's inability to live up to his gargantuan contract. Basically nothing has gone right for the Pelicans this season, aside from the ascension of second year forward Anthony Davis to superstar status.
Normally, a banged up squad on the downward slope would normally be an enticing game for the Lakers, especially coming off of two dramatic fourth quarter wins against the Kings on Friday and last night's stunning last second victory over the Blazers. But this season is no normal season.
It's clear that the Lakers aren't making the playoffs and are instead "playing" for their upcoming draft pick. Currently, LA is in a three-way tie for the league's sixth worst record and two games in back of New Orleans. The Pelicans only own their pick if it's in the top 5 selections, a consequence of their draft day trade last season with the Philadelphia 76ers for Holiday. Thus, the incentive for both teams to "lose" tonight is at an all-time high. In many regards, NOLA's motivations to tank are far higher than the Lakers, especially seeing the reverse standings.
Unfortunately, LA is playing decent ball as of late, getting extremely lucky against a poor Sacramento squad and stunning Portland up in LA's own personal house of horrors. It seems that the relative stability on their active roster has started to bear fruit, with the team becoming comfortable enough with one another to not look like the absolute disaster they were just weeks ago. Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks and Pau Gasol are leading the charge, perhaps a result of the Spaniard's rant against his unfocused, undisciplined team last week. Whatever the reason, the Lakers are on the verge of a three-game win streak... and jettisoning themselves out of the draft board's top 5.
There's a lot at stake tonight, but not in the ways either squad is used to. The Pelicans made a calculated gamble before the season, took a big loss and now have to give away games in order to recoup their follies. Meanwhile, the max-effort Lakers refuse to give into the fate many have prescribed for them.
In the short term, that's great. But in the long term, it may hurt more than losing a couple of regular season games.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino