Let me preface this preview by saying: this was to be expected. The Los Angeles Lakers have been playing with a form of house money in their post all-star game stretch as the team has been without a number of their contributors. The team had initially found ways to win games even when being shorthanded but the combination of playing with a short bench, starters logging heavy minutes, and simple regression from a few guys, simply has caught up to them as the team has lost three straight.
Fortunately for the team, reinforcements may be on their way sooner rather than later. Although Brandon Ingram will not be ready to make his return in this game, Saturday’s contest against the Memphis Grizzlies could mark his first game since March 1st. This season’s fan favorite, Josh Hart, may also make an appearance before season’s end as he recently told the Spectrum SportsNet’s panel he is targeting a March 30th return. Until then, however, the Lakers will have to find a way to get back on track without them.
The Lakers’ opponent in this game is once again a team on the fringes of the playoff picture. The Pelicans are 5th in the West but only possess a three game lead over the 9th place, Los Angeles Clippers. But the Pelicans are also in position to move up the standings with a win against the Lakers as they are only three games behind the current No. 3 seed Portland Trailblazers.
The Pelicans current standing among the best of the Western Conference is simply remarkable considering they were a team many left for dead after Demarcus Cousins’ devastating Achilles rupture back in January. Yet, New Orleans has simply forged on specifically behind the nightly herculean performances from their cornerstone, Anthony Davis.
Davis is in the midst of an historic March even by his standards, as the Brow is currently averaging an absurd stat line of 28.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3.7 blocks, and 1.6 steals per game. The fantastic efforts of Davis has helped keep New Orleans afloat through the uncertainty surrounding the team after a handful of changes soared in during winter.
Davis’ team like the Lakers have seen their roster get a shake-up through aforementioned injuries, but also via deadline trades. For more on the tale of two rosters, The Bird Writes’ Preston Ellis was kind enough to break down for us the new, New Orleans Pelicans:
“To understand the Pelicans, you have to understand who they were and who they have become.
With Demarcus Cousins, the Pelicans carried the second best offense in the NBA, the 29th defense, and the seventh fastest pace. The two paired along with Jrue Holiday to lead the league in minutes played. The Pelicans were short handed due to previous cap mistakes including the injury riddled Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca, Solomon Hill, Rajon Rondo, and newly drafted Frank Jackson.
With Boogie out of the picture, Rondo back in the lineup, and valuable contributions from Emeka Okafor, Niko Mirotic and Cheick Diallo, the Pelicans have become a different beast altogether. They are not ‘better,’ they are different.”
As Ellis elaborated, the Pelicans are indeed a “different” team simply because of the absence of such a dominating player in the form of Cousins. But what the team has been able to do to fill his void as a collective, has been nothing short of impressive. The aforementioned Davis deserves all the praise and accolades that come his way, but the coaching staff along with the contributions of Holiday, Clark, Moore, Mirotic, Diallo, Okafor, and the rest of the squad have really helped reinvent their identity mid-season.
So how “different” are the Pelicans without Boogie? The team's numbers have revealed interesting results. Here are the pre-and-post Cousins’ Pelicans team statistics via Ellis:
22 Games Before Boogie’s Injury:
ORtg: 110.1 DRtg: 107.1 Net: +3.0 Pace: 100.69 TOV: 15.7 Win %: 0.636
22 Games Since Boogie’s Injury:
ORtg: 105.8 DRtg: 105.0 Net: +0.8 Pace: 104.80 TOV: 13.2 Win %: 0.591
The Pelicans have taken an expected dip in offense with Cousins out but have at the same time improved their defensive rating, pace, and turnover percentage. They have also surprisingly been slightly better in terms of net rating with the front court duo of Davis/Mirotic than that of Davis/Cousins.
According to cleaningtheglass.com, when Davis and Mirotic share the floor, the Pelicans have a 110.8 offensive rating, a 105.2 defensive rating and are a net +5.6. When Davis and Cousins shared the floor this season, the Pelicans posted a 109.4 offensive rating, a 103.9 defensive rating and were a net +5.5.
The Pelicans recent solid play may begin to falter though, as they are in the middle of one of the weirder stretches of games you will find all season. Their contest against the Lakers will mark their third straight game in as many days.
The team is also playing in the thick of an exhausting seven games in only nine days. The expected heavy and jet-lag ridden legs may mean less minutes, and possibly missing action for key players when the Lakers and Pelicans shake hands Thursday.
The Lake Show will once again be able to play spoiler in this matchup but to do so they will need to make a dedicated effort in stopping not only Davis, but the team’s shooters. In the teams’ previous meeting in February, the Pelicans rained down 14 threes on only 32 attempts (43.8 percent) and scored a whopping 139 points.
Yet with the Pelicans’ ailments entering the game, the Lakers have a solid chance to both get back in the win column and regain some much needed momentum heading into the fading days of the 2017-18 season.
Time: 5:00 p.m. PT
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
A special thank you to The Bird Writes’ @PrestonEllis for giving us a better picture of the New Orleans Pelicans heading into the game. You can get more of his coverage on Brow and company over at the site and in audio form via his podcast: ‘The Bird Calls.’